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

Meifang Zhang and Hanting Pan

Abstract

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.

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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.

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