2 February 2011

Cultural memory studies and discourse analysis

Special issues of the Journal of Language and Politics (2006) and Critical Discourse Studies (2009) featured articles investigating the relationship between traumatic pasts, history, memory and discourse. Except for one article on the military dictatorship in Uruguay, these studies were specifically focused on the Nazi past, right-wing politics in Austria and the United Kingdom, and several issues related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. The article which analyzes discourse practices of remembrance in Uruguay (Achugar, 2009) is part of a wider and more detailed investigation of the public discourse about the Uruguayan dictatorship (1973-1985). This investigation was published in the monograph What We Remember: the Construction of Memory in Military Discourse (Achugar, 2008). In this study, Achugar explores aspects of commemorative speeches in relation to the Uruguayan dictatorship.

In regards to Argentina, the ways in which language and ideology are interwoven in political speeches delivered by political leaders and the military in recent Argentinean history have been explored in numerous studies (Lavandera, 1985a, 1985b; García Negroni, 1988; García Negroni & Zoppi Fontana, 1992; García Negroni & Raiter, 1988; Montero, 2007, 2008, 2009; Pardo & Lorenzo-Dus, 2010). Several of these studies are in line with the increasing politicization of memory research in the social sciences. They were focused on examining how public memories of political events are strategically constructed in accordance with specific political interests. These public memories are shaped and reproduced in a range of different textual genres: political speeches, military speeches, editorials, textbooks, etc.

In a recently published article on discourse and commemoration of the Malvinas (Falklands) War in the Journal of Multicultural Discourses, Pardo and Lorenzo-Dus (2010) explore the British and Argentinean war hero constructions in Argentinean and British TV shows broadcasted for the 25th commemoration of the war in 2007. The authors conclude that the Argentinean constructions of war here are driven by a ‘modern’ archetype of lone here willing to die for this country, whereas the British are more based on a ‘postmodern’ archetype of the hero as someone who merely does his job as part of team work. This is the first comparative study on paradigms of commemoration in relation to the Malvinas (Falklands) War in discourse analysis and media studies, and may represent a first step to new interdisciplinary research programs on ‘collective memory’ and commemorative practices on Argentinean recent history.

Montero (2007, 2008, 2009) has specifically investigated the new discourse about the military dictatorship introduced and maintained by Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007). In these studies, she explores the tensions and complexities of the current process of collective memory-making in Argentina (Montero, 2008: 27). She investigates the role of authority and political decisions in the speeches of Kirchner. In doing so, she provides arguments about the ideological mechanisms underlying the discursive construction of the political identity of the administration in Kirchner in by means of its way of revisiting the traumatic past (Montero, 2009).

The systematic and detailed linguistic analysis of Argentina’s violent past have shown that the public narratives about the military dictatorship are not mechanically determined by the objective facts about the past, but are rather socially mediated by ideologies in the present. The main aim of those studies was to explore the ideological traits underpinning public speeches about the past by disentangling the strategic relationships between social and textual structures in political discourses. Consequently, little attention has been paid to the key role that the cognitive mechanisms underlying discourse processing (e.g. the role of presupposed knowledge in commemorative speeches in driving inferential processes) play by interconnecting those social and textual structures, with reference to the military regime. I argue that the lack of a cognitive theory of discourse has prevented discourse approaches from providing an exhaustive and integrative picture of the socio-cognitive complexity of discourse processes within the creation of memories.


Achugar, M. (2008). What We Remember. The Construction of Memory in Military Discourse. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Achugar, M. (2009). Constructing the past and constructing themselves: the Uruguayan military’s memory of the dictatorship. Critical Discourse Studies 6 (4), 283-295.

García Negroni, M.M. (1988). La destinación en el discurso político: una categoría múltiple. Lenguaje en Contexto 1 (1/2), 85-111.

García Negroni, M.M. & Raiter, A. (1988). Vers l'Analyse de la Dynamique du Discours. Le Discours du Dr. Tróccoli. Mots 17. October.

García Negroni, M.M. & Zoppi Fontata, M.G. (1992). Análisis Lingüístico y Discurso Político. El Poder de Enunciar. Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina.

Lavandera, B. (1985a). Curso de Lingüística General para el Análisis del Discurso. Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina.

Lavandera, B. (1985b). Intertextual Relationships: 'Missing People' in Argentina. In D. Tannen (ed.), Languages and Linguistics: The Interdependence of Theory, Data and Application (pp.121-139). Washington D.C: Georgetown University Press.

Montero, A. S. (2007). “¡Claro que estoy en campaña!”: Exclamación, oposición y verdad en el discurso presidencial (Argentina, 2003-2006). Análisis semántico-argumentativo del marcador claro que. Revista Oralia: Análisis del Discurso Oral 10, 193-212.

Montero, A.S. (2008). Justicia y decisión en el discurso presidencial argentino sobre la memoria (2003-2007). CONfines 7, 27-41.

Montero, A. S. (2009). Puesta en escena, destinación y contra-destinación en el discurso kirchnerista (Argentina, 2003-2007). Discurso & Sociedad 3 (2), 316-347.

Pardo, L. & Lorenzo-Dus, N. (2010). The Falklands/Malvinas 25 years on: a comparative analysis of constructions of heroism on Argentinean and British television. Journal of Multicultural Discourses 5 (3), 253-270.

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