Institutional power in and behind discourse: A case study of SARS notices and their translations used in Macao

Meifang Zhang and Hanting Pan

This article takes a critical approach to the study of the SARS notices and their translations from the perspective of discourse analysis. Drawing upon the insights of systemic functional linguistics (SFL) and critical discourse analysis (CDA), this study explores how language is used by different governmental institutions in shaping their social power and hierarchy. By conducting a comparative study of the SARS notices and their translations, focusing on speech roles, speech functions, modality types and modality orientation, the authors argue that choices made in producing the texts reflect the institutions’ social roles and their relationship with each other and with the audience. They also argue that the application of concepts from SFL in detailed text analysis and from CDA in the overall discussion may better reveal how different models of discourse analysis can supplement each other and be applied to translation studies.

Table of contents

Ever since the early 1990s discourse analysis approaches to translation studies have become extremely popular among linguistics-oriented translation scholars. Of the different theoretical models, Halliday’s systemic functional linguistic (SFL) model is considered the most influential because in this model “there is a strong interrelation between the linguistic choices, the aim of the form of communication and the sociocultural framework” (Munday 2012a, 137). In recent years, however, newly developed linguistic theories such as critical discourse analysis (CDA) and appraisal theory have been employed in translation studies as well. For example, Kang (2007) applies the CDA model in the study of institutional discourse, Schäffner (2012) employs concepts from CDA for her analysis of political [ p. 388 ]discourse and translation, and Munday (2012b) conducts a critical study on translator decision making with reference to appraisal theory and Fairclough’s critical views on discourse. Previous studies of this type have to a certain extent supported Van Dijk’s argument that “both discourse studies and critical discourse studies make use of a vast amount of methods of observation, analysis and other strategies to collect, examine or evaluate data, to test hypotheses, to develop theory and to acquire knowledge” (2008, 4). Van Dijk also points out that one of the crucial tasks of CDA is “to account for the relationship between discourse and social power” (65). However, although discourse analysis approaches to translation studies have underpinned many projects and publications, relatively few studies have directly addressed the issue of discourse and power. Therefore, the present research is carried out to address this important issue—how discourse is used to help in shaping social power and hierarchy.

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price. Direct PDF access to this article can be purchased through our e-platform.


Chouliaraki, Lilie, and Norman Fairclough
1999Discourse in Late Modernity: Rethinking Critical Discourse Analysis. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
Fairclough, Norman
1989Language and Power. London: Longman.Google Scholar
1992Discourse and Social Change. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
Fairclough, Norman, and Ruth Wodak
1997 “Critical Discourse Analysis.” In Discourse as Social Interaction, ed. by Teun A. Van Dijk, 258–284. London: Sage.Google Scholar
Halliday, M.A.K
1978Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning. London: Arnold.Google Scholar
1994An Introduction to Functional Grammar. 2nd ed. London: Arnold.Google Scholar
Halliday, M.A.K., and Christian Matthiessen
2004An Introduction to Functional Grammar. 3rd ed. London: Arnold.Google Scholar
Kang, Ji-Hae
2007 “Recontextualization of News Discourse: A Case Study of Translation of News Discourse on North Korea.” The Translator 13 (2): 219–242. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Li, Charles N., and Sandra A. Thompson
1976 “Subject and Topic: A New Typology of Language.” In Subject and Topic, ed. by Charles N. Li, 457–489. London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
1981Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Martin, J.R., and Peter R.R. White
2008The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.Google Scholar
Mayr, Andrea
2008Language and Power: An Introduction to Institutional Discourse. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
Munday, Jeremy
2012aIntroducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications. 3rd ed. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
2012bEvaluation in Translation: Critical Points of Translator Decision-making. Abingdon: Routledge. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Schäffner, Christina
2012 “Unknown Agents in Translated Political Discourse.” Target 24 (1): 103–125. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
[ p. 405 ]
Thompson, Geoff
1996Introducing Functional Grammar. London: Arnold.Google Scholar
Van Dijk, Teun A
2008Discourse and Power. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Vinay, Jean-Paul, and Jean Darbelnet
1995Comparative Stylistics of French and English: A Methodology for Translation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Wodak, Ruth, and Michael Meyer
eds. 2009Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis. 2nd ed. London: Sage.Google Scholar