Alt. title: "Dull Feature Analysis." Today I’m working on a small-time
application of discourse analysis for Method~ologies. We’re looking at a
corpus of eight student essays. Initially, I considered how I would graph
Bazerman’s concept of "intertextual reach," which he defines as "how far a text
travels for its intertextual relations" (89). How far is that? How
do we account for the span of these traces–meters, leagues, years, decibels,
lumens? Maybe referential density could draw on network studies.
How? We could establish a near intertextual reach as
reference-gestures that share another source. This would involve a
triangulation of citations: Bazerman–let’s say–cites Porter and Prior.
But Porter also cites Prior. Porter is intertextually nearer than Prior
(who does not cite any other source in common with Bazerman). I’m making
this up. The far reach would describe the solitary reference–the
singular text-trace that is not shared by any other source cited in the primary
text (the text whose traces and reaches we are surveying). But I wanted to
think about intertextual reach as a quality that could be determined by
triangulating citations. Applied to a batch of student essays where
works-to-cite are predefined, intertextual reach seems wobbly–a stretch,
as in…look at how they reach alike.
I’ll need something else.
And so I got out all of my fingers and toes
and went about counting commonplace features–dull features. In her work
on awk sentences and evidentials, Barton applies a method of linguistic
analysis she refers to as rich feature analysis. Rich feature analysis can
lead to inductive (data-first) or deductive (theory-first) claim-making.
Rich features have both linguistic integrity (i.e., they are
structural features of language, so they can be defined in linguistic terms
and then categorized, coded, counted, and otherwise analyzed empirically) and
contextual value (i.e., they can be conventionally connected to matters
of function, meaning, interpretation, and significance). The connection
between a feature and its contextual value is a convention of language use.
In this method, then, the connection between structure and function is the
primary focus of analysis. (66)
That’s where I’m at for now–thinking through this stuff. I’m tempted
to complement the terms Barton emphasizes, but I’m just as inclined to make the
case that dull features also have linguistic integrity and contextual value.
One distinction, perhaps, is that banal/dull features don’t connect to "matters
of function, meaning, interpretation and significance" in quite the same way as
rich features. Banal features are, perhaps, second-class features, in this
sense; in conventionalized reading-for-meaning, they are there and yet not
there–these features. Yes, of course…I’m going to need a truckload of
caveats to clear this up.