Research article
Issue: № 2 (10), 2017


The article deals with the aspects of professional discourse. Linguistic aspects of professional consciousness study are disclosed; the contents of professional worldview and the structure of professional consciousness are described. Background of semiotic research of professional discourse is analyzed on the level of metalanguage and speech communication. The role of conceptual metaphor and metonymy as means of world categorization and conceptualization in professional communication is revealed. Some perspectives of cognitive and semiotic approach towards professional discourse study are suggested.
  1. Introduction

The fact that discourse has been the subject of researchers’ interest for several decades can be explained by the central position it holds in the language functioning as well as by its complex nature involving all spheres of the person’s life. This intertwinement can also be the reason for the multidisciplinary character of discourse studies and application of different approaches towards its research in the framework of pragmatics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, functional stylistics, and semiotics. While initially the main aim of the discourse study was to differentiate the discourse from the text, nowadays investigators look into the specific character of various types of discourse and the description of their structural, cognitive and pragmatic characteristics. Moreover, widening of the range of problems in discourse studies goes along with greater differentiation and classification of the language matter which contributes to analyzing new types of discourse. Among them professional discourse is the less studied one in spite of it being socially and heuristically important.

Professional discourse is the one which functions in the context of professional communication. It can be analyzed from different points of view, such as philosophical, epistemological, sociological, pedagogical, etc. We believe that professional discourse is a combination of the corpus of texts united by the theme, thesaurus and professional worldview together with extralinguistic factors which are determined by the person’s professional activity.

Professional discourse intertwines with scientific, workplace, institutional or some other types of discourse. Scientific discourse of a particular domain constitutes part of general scientific discourse and is included in the core of professional discourse. Workplace discourse comprises texts relating to people’s activity in various organizations. Institutional discourse is presented by texts and talks determined by the set of social roles [8]. Professional discourse comprises institutional discourse as it is not only role-determined communication but informal one as well. We can apply here the definition of discourse given by A. J. Greimas and J. Courtes [19, P.488], who state that discourse as “the semiotic process appears as a set of discursive practices: linguistic practices (verbal behavior) and non-linguistic practices (signifying somatic behavior manifested by the sensory orders)”.

  1. Professional worldview and professional consciousness

Professional worldview, as L.A. Chernyshova [13] defines, is part of scientific worldview, a substantial invariant of universal scientific knowledge in a particular sphere of the person’s activity. N.F. Alefirenko states that scientific worldview reflects phenomenological reality, not ontological; scientific worldview is just approximation of truth, more or less successful model of the world, which is real and ever changing. Thus, “worldview before Copernicus and after, before Newton and after, Einsteinian and quantum are fundamentally different” [1].

Along with being part of scientific world view professional worldview incorporates practical knowledge necessary for carrying out practical activity. In professional communication E.I. Golovanova [5] distinguishes two basic formats: theoretical, based on rational thinking, and practical, connected with peculiarities of intuitive and imaginative thinking, which relies on sense perception of the environment. Besides these two formats there can be identified naïve (commonplace) one in some discourse types (such as medical, legal, etc.) where specialist vs. non-specialist communication takes place and thus professional and everyday ideas interact.

Professional worldview is the basis for professional consciousness, which can be defined as the phenomenon which reflects definite professional activity and whose function is regulation of the person’s social activity in some professional sphere.

A.A. Angelovskii [2] studying the structure of professional consciousness distinguishes three components: epistemological, practical and axiological. Theoretical and historical scientific knowledge necessary for the type of professional discourse; basic ideas of the professional activity, its importance; functions and principles of the profession constitute the epistemological component. The practical component comprises practical skills, professional norms and regulations reflecting peculiarities of this professional activity. The axiological component is the basis for professional ethics, such as behavior norms and patterns of the person as a member of the professional community.

The list of components can be further developed and we can add ethnocultural component. For instance, there exist ethnic variants of medical professional worldview of a Western or Eastern representative, which differ considerably. In the West, medicine is called “medicine of separate organs” as the fundamental method of the therapy is the treatment of disease symptoms, while in the East, the object of the cure is the person’s body in the whole: consideration is given to the physical as well as psychological state.

  1. Semiotic approach to the professional discourse study.

The phenomenon of semiotics as the science is witnessed in the gap between its practical application and theoretical apprehension. On the one hand, the semiotics theory appeared in the 20th century only and one of its founders F. de Saussure [21] while formulating the principles of language semiotic research wrote that semiotics as a science does not exist yet. These days A. Solomonik [12] believes that general semiotics in contrast to special semiotics is still in the process of its development. On the other hand, we witness the expansion of the semiotic method onto more and more objects of study, there appear new methodologies targeted not only at social and cultural phenomena but at animal life and inorganic nature as well. What is more, this tendency extends to some former scientific achievements, which in hindsight are acknowledged as semiotic studies. For instance, Mendeleev periodic system is viewed as an ideal semiotic system by A.Solomonik [12], and all genuine thinkers of pre-revolutionary Russia in the Humanities are considered to be semioticians or their foregoers [7], [11]. Such extended understanding of semiotics falls into line with Pierce’s opinion [10] who postulates pan-sign, stating that any object in the Universe can be studied as a sign. U. Eco, one of the most outstanding semiotics researchers, says that semiotics is interested in anything that can be seen as the sign [15, P. 7]. Consequently, any phenomenon is potentially semiotic and whether to study it as a semiotic system element depends on the recipient’s willingness to acknowledge it as the result of conscious perception and further formalization. As a result, the notion of semiosphere, as the formalized knowledge, introduced by Y. Lotman [9] spreads to noosphere [22] and even biosphere [6]. Any phenomena characterized by the systematic character and consistency, which is semiosphere characteristics, may be seen as semiotic system components.

We state that the study of professional discourse should be carried on the primary level (metalanguage) and the secondary level (speech communication). The sign character of professional discourse on the metalanguage level is represented by the language for specific purposes; the main body here is compiled by special terminology. Special terms have been deeply studied in the framework of systematic and epistemological school in terminology, which has a long history and has impressive results. Terminological systems studied in this school possess all characteristics of a semiotic system and thus are actually semiotic.

On the level of speech communication the systematic character is witnessed in the organization of speech genres, functioning of intertextual incorporations and precedent texts, recurrence of discursive patterns, etc. Thematic relations and the structure of terminological systems present a regular hierarchical system, iconically reflecting part of reality profound organization in the person’s consciousness in a particular professional sphere. Thus, the terminological system of a particular professional sphere functions both as a system of signs and as a model reflecting a corresponding cognitive macrostructure, which means it is a kind of an icon.

Semiotic approach is not restricted to classifications and systematization but takes into account the subjective nature of cognition and social communication. The foundation for this was laid in Ch. Peirce’s semiotics conception according to which the main element in the semiosis is an interpreter, as it is he who is responsible for something to be treated as a sign or non-sign and consequently for the semiosis itself [10]. A. Solomonik [12] postulates the importance of differentiation between ontological and semiotic reality. He believes that the humanity has not direct access towards ontological reality and thus semiotic reality arising in the process of ontological reality cognition serves a guideline in the person’s practical activity.

The subjective aspect of semiotic research fully manifests itself in R. Barthes’ connotative semiotics [4], one of whose purposes is semiotic analysis of bourgeois ideology mechanisms and methods of its propaganda. Connotative semiotics, which places high emphasis on revealing explicit and implicit meaning, has a lot in common with cognitive linguistics, which analyzes fundamental mechanisms of the person’s cognitive activity as well as substantial categories presupposing all types of his social and cultural activity.

The subjective character of cognition reveals itself on the level of terminology, which is proved by lingvo-cognitive terminological research that unlike traditional studies is not descriptive but explanatory. The object of cognitive terminology is language for specific purposes in relation to processes of linguistic categorization and conceptualization as well as cognitive structures of knowledge. Key terminology functions as scientific cognitive units, whose thematic relations and structure form conceptual worldview as part of professional worldview.

Speech organization of professional discourse has a field structure and contains corresponding fragments of scientific, pedagogical, mass media and other discourses. For instance, scientific medical texts, texts of institutional formal and informal communication constitute the core of medical discourse; on the close periphery we find educational mass media materials; the further periphery is occupied by publicist articles, everyday medical talks, etc. This combination of different discourses and speech genres iconically reflect functioning of corresponding social institutes.

  1. Cognitive mechanisms of professional communication.

One of the basic means of conceptualization and categorization in professional communication is analogy and metaphor as analogy’s manifestation. Cognitive linguistics postulates that metaphor is not just a trope, but also a cognitive mechanism, allowing conceptualization of new ontological phenomena in analogy with already existing state of things. That is the reason why metaphor is given the central position, not periphery one, in the cognitive language model.

The development of the cognitive metaphor theory and description of metaphorical models is one of the most promising research in contemporary cognitive linguistics [20], [3], [14]. One of the latest achievements in cognitive linguistics is the theory of conceptual integration developed by M. Turner and G. Fauconnier [18], who understand metaphor as mental mapping of conceptual source domain onto target domain. At the same time short-term memory preserves blends which are later, at the moment of speech, incorporating into knowledge structure and serve as a fundamental component of cognitive process. The source domains may be connected by different types of relations, such as, analogy and metaphor projection, metonymy transfer, correspondence between function and meaning, etc.

An advantage of conceptual integration model is the fact that it allows to infer and analyze metaphorical dominant ideas in different spheres including professional discourse, which promotes understanding of the world perception by specialists in different professional spheres. For instance, the conceptual analysis of educational medical texts shows that professional consciousness is characterized by biocentrism, and such metaphors as “Person’s body – Battle field”, “Person’s body –Sentient being” are dominant in the process of the person’s body conceptualization. Astrological discourse dominant metaphors are “Sky – Clock”, “Horoscope – Theatre stage”, “Horoscope – Life Map” [16].

Another fundamental cognitive mechanism in professional discourse is metonymy. А. Burkhardt [17] studying the football language distinguishes three semantic spheres: “game language”, “position language”, “table/list language”. In “game language” metonymy is the leading cognitive mechanism, which helps to represent the whole game situation in one element of it, for instance, “corner kick”, “penalty kick”, “indirect free kick”. The study of astrological forum by professional astrologers allows us to state that one of the fundamental discourse mechanisms in astrological professional discourse is metonymical transfer from time to place characteristics. For example, “Most interesting will be the period when Uranus goes across Chiron in the 10 house.”

  1. Conclusion.

In spite of the differences between semiotics and cognitive linguistics they share some peculiarities. First, they are not pure scientific disciplines, rather scientific approaches which can be applied to different objects, though mainly in social sciences and Humanities. Moreover, both disciplines have interdisciplinary character, moderate phenomenology, interest to metaphor and metonymy. Besides, their common tendency is seen in the interest to dynamic aspect of phenomena functioning, denotation and meaning generation process.

While analyzing professional discourse, such as medical, astrological and sport,  in the linguistic framework we believe it is promising to study it in a larger context taking into account non-verbal and extralinguistic factors, for instance, systematic study of presuppositions, implications together with such non-verbal elements as gestures, proxemics, oculesics.


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