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Salience and Relief-Related Discourse

Call for articles: deadlines – April 30th, 2015 (abstracts), october, 2015 (articles).
Director of Issue:
Samia Ounoughi , Anglophone Studies AMU LERMA EA 853, Université-Pierre-Mendès France (UPMF) Grenoble 2.


Salience is a term of Latin origin and has recently been adapted to French “saillance” in the field of linguistics where it generally refers to any phenomenon of emphasis. It is precisely because the mountains are by nature salient objects of geography that we would like to bring closer the two disciplines of discourse analysis (and picture analysis) and Alpine geography through the concept of salience.

The perception of the Alpine Arch has undergone a great evolution since the end of the 18th century, especially thanks to travellers visiting from Britain. Scientists, sportspeople, artists and writers have in turn visited the Alps for more than two centuries. The way they have looked upon the Alps has greatly contributed to change the way we look at the mountains. Under their quill, the once terrifying mountains were to become a place of beauty and awe (Bätzing and Rougier, Les Alpes : un foyer de civilisation au cœur de l’Europe : 2005). Mountains thenceforth began to host more and more diverse visitors whose stay or passage in the Alps contributed in their turn to change their physical, human or social geography, among other aspects. Geographers Bätzing and Rougier (2005) have also highlighted the role played by the perception of foreigners whose daily environment does not display such imposing geographical relief as the Alps. The novelty of this range of landscapes in their eyes is transcribed in their discourse by bringing into relief traits which Alpine peoples no longer notice with such surprise or novelty.

Whether it issues from the very nature of the object referred to as salient; from the place of this object in its environment or from the inherent characteristics of the subject who experiences it (cf.: the categories of salience, Landragin: 2011), salience has become an important theme of research in linguistics. Various schools of linguistics have already issued publications on salience (Landragin: 2004, 2011, Haude, Montaut: 2012, Inkova: 2011, Boisseau: symposium in Strasburg in 2010: to be published). The aim of these works which explore various languages is to issue a more precise definition of salience and to point out the forms salience may take in language. Eventually this will help precise what this concept can bring to discourse analysis. Finally, Landragin suggests extending the use of the notion to other disciplines to which it can bring a new insight (cf. Landragin’s parallel between salience in photography and in narrative discourse: 2011).

This project more largely revolves around a questioning of how relief is framed in discourse through tools of pragmatics. Discourse construction will be analysed from the point of view of linguistics in its broadest sense. Authors are thus invited to produce articles on the forms and structures inherent to a language (certain structures may be common to different languages). Texts can be approached through cognitive linguistics and/or enunciation linguistics. Authors may also explore the stylistic aspect of relief in texts, that is to say, the framing of poetic discourse or the uncommon use of certain recurrent linguistic/discursive forms that literally “throw the perceived object into relief” and make a mountain out of it. In this stylistics perspective, it will also be interesting to examine how the relation between the enunciator and their speech on relief is constructed. Which viewpoint is adopted (narrative focus in narratology / modality in linguistics)? Finally, we will welcome articles delving into rhetoric to find out how esthetic and poetic forms single out the shaping of discourse on relief.

Authors of these analyses will seek to bring the relation between discourse analysis and the definition of the mountains to the forefront and, more largely, of relief according to the enunciator’s perception which will be put in the perspective of what they are used to seeing in their environment. This is precisely why texts in foreign languages are particularly interesting. The roof of Great Britain (Ben Nevis in Scotland) being 1344m high, one can expect from the alienage of the British traveller’s perception the emergence of linguistic and discursive forms that undoubtedly heighten to a higher degree the distinction of traits proper to reliefs and depressions. Language creativity will also be requested to face the challenge of putting into words what one has never seen or that is not yet part of a given linguistic landscape. For example, one could compare the means English has to put the sea and the seashore into words with what English has to put the mountains into words.

Later on, once the mountain has been explored, it partakes of the horizon of expectations of the traveller seeking to discover it. The travel writer or the artist, the geographer, the sociologist or the anthropologist goes to the mountains in quest of what they already know of them and what attracted them there (Ruskin’s texts are very interesting in this respect).

Salience-related phenomena have long interested specialists of physical geography, (the word “saillance” is not used by geomorphologists in French); these phenomena have even become the core object of study in geomorphology (Le Cœur: 1996). In human geography, salience has been approached in various ways. For years, it has been seen as a fact observed from the point of view of both constraint and opportunity (Géneau de Lamarlière and Staszak 2000). In cultural geography, salience is rather approached from the point of view of construction. Indeed, in so far as it conveys values, stirs the imagination and enhances practice, language contributes to the construction of our representations of reality (Debarbieux 2007) and thus contributes to the construction of the mountain as an individualized object (Debarbieux and Rudaz 2010). Moreover, Raffestin (1995) based the epistemology of a branch of geography on the grounds of language/territory links.

Proposed themes (not exhaustive)

We here propose to explore the representation of the Alps and of other massifs in texts of all natures from the end of the 18th century to the present day.

  • Seeking to analyse the representation of the mountain, authors may choose from travel narratives or works of fictions of all genres or even press articles (guides, mountain journals, etc.), geography schoolbooks. School textbooks and specialised journals could for instance be compared with their counterparts in other languages.
    Beyond English studies, the analyses of texts in any language other than French and English are welcome. How can the notion of salience in linguistics be put in relation with relief related discourse? How can intrinsically salient elements of discourse (linguistic marks, rhetorical forms…) contribute to the construction of the discourse on the mountain and how do they single it out? To what degree does the subject who takes charge of their speech redefine salience in their perception and representation of the mountain?
    Authors may also compare speeches about the same place produced by different authors.

  • Beyond discourse as a mode of representation, authors may produce articles on iconographical representations of the mountain in which different methods to make a mountain out of a spatial object can be expected.
    How does the artist manage the use of canons? Do they need to diverge from them when they picture relief? Why and how do they proceed? What new methods do they use? In short, how does the mountain spur creativity in the structural sense of the term?


Deadline for proposals (500 words): April 30th 2015. Please include the following details: Surname, name, status, research group. Authors will get feedback as soon as possible. Proposals should be sent to: Samia Ounoughi (Anglophone studies AMU LERMA EA 853, UPMF Grenoble 2) and Sylvie Duvillard (UPMF, CNRS PACTE-CNRS UMR5194 )

Final articles are expected in October 2015 in two versions.

If the submitted paper is in French, Italian, German or Spanish, the translation must be in English, and if the submitted paper is in English, the translation must be in French.

The issue will be published around June 2016.