Kenyan newspapers discourse: an investigation of rhetorical structure in editorials as argumentation
Nyongesa, Ben Wekesa
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Editorials assume an important communicative role by offering newsreaders a distinctive and authoritative voice that speaks to them directly, in the face of troubling or problematic circumstances. As a part of the wider opinion discourse, editorials address news readers embraced in a consensual relationship by taking a particular stance in relation to the person and topic referred to. Despite their communicative importance, editorials have received less sustained attention from scholars and in particular from a linguistic point of view. Based on Rhetorical Structure Theory by Mann and Thompson (1987) and Hatch's (1992) Model, the study investigates the rhetorical structure in editorials. It seeks to find out whether editorials in the Kenyan newspaper discourse convince newsreaders through more of rational-logical appeals or through irrational-emotional appeals and also whether editorials adhere to the generic constraints of argumentation in terms of structure and content. The study aims at contributing towards research in Rhetorical Structure analysis. A descriptive research design is adopted, in which, four editorials, drawn from the mainstream English language newspapers in Kenya (Kenya Times, People Daily, East African Standard and Sunday Nation), are analysed. These four editorials are picked on following purposive sampling procedure, in which, only those on the same topical issue - the Budget 2003 - are considered. Data is analysed, discussed and presented in form of frequency tables, pie charts and Rhetorical structure diagrams. The following findings emerge from the study: Editorials in the Kenyan English language newspapers are more of persuasion than argumentation discourse. They use more of the emotional-ethical appeals (68.2%) than the expected rational-logical appeals which only represents 31.8% of the rhetorical features noted in the study corpus. In terms of structure, editorials in the Kenyan newspaper discourse adhere to the classical structure of an argumentation. That is, they have a proposition (summary of events), evidence/support (evaluation) and a conclusion (the pragmatic coda). The structural components of editorials as argumentation discourse are signalled by specific clause relations, though some like Evaluation and Contrast relations cut across the three structural components. However, the Interpersonal relations such as evidence, justify, evaluation, contrast, concession feature prominently in the evidence/support schematic category. The ideation-textual relations, on the other hand, dominate the proposition and the conclusion schematic categories. The prominence of Interpersonal Relations implies that editorials in Kenyan Newspapers aim at persuading by increasing belief and acceptability of the information at the expense of clarity and precision. This makes them rhetorically inept. Many opinions and clause relations are implicitly signalled. This, therefore, calls for keen reading and high concentration for a reader to follow the argument. Clause relations do more than simply signalling the sequential progression in a text. They also signal the ideational aspect or subject matter of the writer. This in turn reveals the writer's plausible intention on the reader. It is therefore, important that writers signal the relations in a text since it makes the text more readable and comprehensible. This study recommends the need to harmonize the use of rational language and emotional language in editorials. This is because allowing one to entirely overshadow the other make readers suspicious and cynical of the editorial and eventually the entire newspaper.