Research axis n°4: Discourses, domains and specialized milieux

Contact : Catherine Resche

Specialized discourses are not created from scratch and they should therefore be studied depending on the communities and milieux which produce them, the domain (academic or professional) they come from and with their history, place and function in society in mind. For linguists, analyzing specialized discourses in their context – not only textual but also historical, social and cultural – is a way to better understand how domains are born, how they evolve, as well as the extent to which the discourse of specialists is influenced by tradition and by the culture of the milieu as well as by their aims and the public they are destined to. The analysis of specialized discourses, thanks to the creation of corpora, is supported by computerized tools (concordancers and other programs) which make it possible to search for atypical characteristics in such or such discourse. This analysis can be diachronic or synchronic, depending on what the researcher needs.

Terminological aspects are key in the study of specialized languages but they are only a gateway. Beyond what can be learnt from terminological and conceptual trees, all the variations from “common” language which are characteristic of such or such domain should be closely considered. Researchers in specialized languages take into account the various textual genres, they look at rhetoric and stylistics. For example, they point out euphemisms and discursive precautions and they question their motivation with a pragmatic approach.

With that in mind, sociology and ethnography can be of help in order to place specialized discourses in their context of production and reception. Interacting with actors from a specialized milieu can, for example, provide new perspectives on the lexical and rhetorical choices identified while analyzing the corpus. Similarly, the analysis of the perceptions attached to certain terms can explain some evolutions, in a diachronic perspective.

When it comes to academic domains, the study of metaphors is very enlightening and is a gateway to the history of the ideas which shaped the specialty. The metaphors on which theories of specialized milieux are based are essential. They appear under metaphorical terms and studying them on the diachronic axis is a way to consider the possible scientific paradigm shifts. They are also relevant for the dialogue between sciences and society. For professional domains, metaphors can be a tool to persuade and they can hint to the way speakers express their vision of the world or shape their audience’s thinking (framing).

In any case, metaphors can have an iconic, heuristic, pedagogical and argumentative function; studying them makes it possible to gauge the pulse of a time, of a particular culture or institution. These are all the facets of specialized discourses this research axis tries to tackle.