Theoretical Background

The present study draws, first, on previous studies on the concepts of stance and markers of modality and negation; second on the concept of recontextualization as a process in which a piece of discourse refers intertextually to previous discourses and social practices and to held assumptions on a particular topic (Linell 2009, Semino et al. 2013); third, on the literature on political discourse and the significance of uses of linguistic features such as modality and personal pronouns in the indexing of stance (Boyd 2014a, b; Charteris-Black 2004, 2011; Chilton 2004; Evans and Chilton (2010); Fairclough 1989, 1992, 2010; Fetzer 2013; Marin-Arrese et al. 2013; Marin-Arrese 2015; Wilson 1990). Finally, corpus linguistic tools are used to explore the frequency and co-occurrence of stance markers related to the areas of indexicality, modality and negation, which are then discussed from a qualitative perspective (see, for example, Simon-Vandenbergen and Aijmer 2007; Biber et al. 1999; Charteris-Black 2004; Rayson 2008).

Stance has been the focus of attention of numerous studies in discourse grammar and discourse pragmatics (Halliday 1994; Biber and Finegan 1988; Biber et al. 1999; Englebretson 2007; Hunston and Thompson 2000; Marin-Arrese et al. 2013; Martin and White 2005; Thompson and Alba-Juez 2014, among others). What emerges from these studies is that there is a complex relation between the concepts of evaluation, stance and positioning in discourse. Numerous proposals have been put forward in order to identify categories of stance and the linguistic resources which characterize different stance styles. Biber and Finegan (1988: 93) define stance as ‘The lexical and grammatical expression of attitudes, feelings, judgements, or commitments concerning the propositional content of a message’. In the present study we address grammatical stance, in particular as described by Halliday (1994). Halliday proposes a classification of stance types based on degrees of subjectivity. Table 1 below shows a distinction between subjective explicit stance,

Table 1 Degrees of subjectivity in stance


Type of realization



(a) explicit

I/we (do not) think, believe, feel

We believe that peace is possible.

I/we + be + (not) + attribute

I’m (not) sure



(Not) + can (cannot), may, might, could, will, would, must

You will have no better friend than the United States of America.

The people of the world can live together in peace.


(c) explicit

Probably, certainly, possibly + (not)

Most naturalists probably don’t know...



It’s (not) likely, it’s (not) certain

It is not likely that man should have succeeded in selecting.

Adapted from Halliday (1994: 355) characterized by the use of first person pronouns and mental verbs (believe, know, think), subjective implicit stance, marked by the use of modal verbs, objective explicit stance, marked by the presence of stance adjectives and adverbs, and, finally, objective implicit stance, indicated by the impersonal structure ‘it + be + stance adjective’. We have included the negative form not in brackets as part of the marking of stance because, as argued above, the frequency and distribution of negation across stance types is significant for the discourse pragmatic interpretation of the differences between the two political speeches.

With respect to the relation between negation and stance, it is worth pointing out that scholars who address the grammatical marking of stance focus on its realization by means of modality (see Biber et al. 1999; Halliday 1994; Halliday and Matthiessen 2004; Hidalgo Downing and Nunez-Perucha 2013; Thompson 2004; Marin-Arrese et al. 2013; Givon 1993). From this perspective, negation is considered by several scholars as one of the language modalities; as explained by Givon, modalization in language is a cline which goes from strong positive assertion, modality and irrealis, presupposition, to strong negative assertion (adapted from Givon 1993: 170). Negation and modality are particularly interesting because of the relative values introduced by modal terms and because of the capacity of negation to evoke presupposed concepts and to introduce strong negative assertions.

Indeed, the use of negation is a well-known strategy in political discourse, in which, as argued by Jordan (1998), two-part or three-part structures are used in order to correct a previous assumption and pave the path for a new idea. A classic example is the opening of Mark Anthony’s speech in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar (Shakespeare 1991):

(1) Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him (Act III, scene ii)

Example (1) illustrates a two-part structure in which the speaker uses negation to defeat possible expectations held by his audience and correct them.

Du Bois’s notion of ‘the stance triangle’ is particularly significant for the understanding of stance as a dialogic and intersubjective phenomenon which underlies the process of recontextualization discussed in the present paper. Du Bois argues that we use language to establish relations with texts, with the topic at hand and with other speakers (2007: 163). This concept of stance is based, as in other scholars (see Martin and White 2005), on the dialogic view of discourse (Bahktin 1981). In this sense, all discourses refer to previously produced texts and discourses intertextually. The role of negation in this process is particularly significant, since in order to deny an idea or defeat an expectation, the idea or expectation needs to be mentioned. In the present article we argue that negation plays a crucial role in the process of recon- textualization in political discourse as a social practice. Linell (2009) describes recontextualization as a process in which language is re-used and adapted to new contexts and situations, including new genres. He distinguishes three types of recontextualization, intratextual, intertextual and interdiscursive. In the present study we make use of the second type of recontextualization, intertextual recontextualization (see also Boyd 2014a, b). From this perspective, Obama’s speech in Cairo in 2009 can be seen in the light of a process of recontextualization which involves a series of significant contextual changes in the genre of the presidential address to a foreign community as a social practice: a change in the US political program, which is the result of the change of president, a change in time, from 2008 to 2009, and a consequent change in the socio-political context. Within Critical Discourse Analysis and Political Discourse Analysis, this process has been described as one of ‘re-imagining’ a social practice (Fairclough 2010; Boyd 2014a, b). In the case analyzed in the present paper, recontextalization does not occur across genres, but within the same genre by two different politicians at two different moments in time. These differences in personal identity and time shape the recon- textualization process as one in which what is re-imagined by the world community is the relation between the US and Arab countries, and, consequently, the US foreign policy in international affairs. This is clearly consistent with the title of Obama’s speech ‘A New Beginning’.

With regard to political discourse, we draw on studies which approach this type of discourse as social practice, which consequently has ideological implications (Boyd 2014a, b; Charteris-Black 2011; Chilton 2004, Fairclough 1989, 1992, 2010; Wilson 1990). Though Bush’s and Obama’s discourses have been the object of extensive study by numerous scholars (Boyd 2014b), the present article contributes to current scholarship in this field of study by focusing on the two US Presidents’ approaches to the issue of the Arab World, a particularly conflictive one in the US policy, and the way their speeches appeal intertextually both to the issue at hand and to the assumptions and expectations of the audience they address.

The role of features such as modality, pragmatic markers, personal pronouns and metaphor has been discussed by numerous scholars (see for example, Charteris- Black 2004, 2011; Chilton 2004; Fetzer 2013; Boyd 2014a, b; Marin-Arrese et al. 2013; Marin-Arrese 2015). However, the role of negation has not received sufficient attention as a strategy used by politicians to deny previous concepts and simultaneously introduce new ideas (for an example of this strategy in scientific discourse see Hidalgo Downing 2014). A great part of the discussion in the present study focuses on the interaction between modality, personal pronouns and negation, and on how this interaction articulates the process of recontextualization in Obama’s speech.

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