Climatic Change

, Volume 118, Issue 2, pp 417–430 | Cite as

Arguing for climate policy through the linguistic construction of narratives and voices: the case of the South-African green paper “National Climate Change Response”

  • Kjersti FløttumEmail author
  • Øyvind Gjerstad


The purpose of the present paper is to examine a selection of macro- and micro-linguistic features (at text and sentence/word level respectively) of the South-African Green Paper “National Climate Change Response” from 2010. Our overarching assumption is that the Green Paper needs to handle competing interests, beliefs and voices in a narrative structure favouring specific courses of action. How does the government portray the complex natural and societal phenomenon of climate change, and how does it take into account the many and often competing national and international views and interests which come into play? Our hypothesis is that the Green Paper constructs a narrative and that it relates to a number of voices other than that of the authors, through linguistic markers of polyphony, such as negation, sentence connectives, adverbs and reported speech. Thus we propose a narrative and polyphonic analysis of the Green Paper, at the level of the text as a whole (macro-level) but also with attention to linguistic constructions of polyphony or “multi-voicedness” (micro-level). We find that the narrative-polyphonic properties of the Green Paper contribute to a strategy for building consensus on climate change policy. The South African government assumes the role of main hero in its own climate change “story”, and there are subtle forms of interaction with different and typically non-identified voices, such as concessive constructions and presuppositions. These results support our overarching interpretation of the whole document as striving to impose a South African consensus on the issue of climate change.


Climate Change Impact Concession Green Paper Address Climate Change Collective Voice 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Climate change


The Republic of South Africa


  1. Adam J-M (1992) Les textes: types et prototypes. Nathan, ParisGoogle Scholar
  2. Adam J-M (2008) La linguistique textuelle. Introduction à l’analyse textuelles des discourse, 2nd edn. Armand Colin, ParisGoogle Scholar
  3. Bakhtine M (1984 [1952]) Les genres du discours. Esthétique de la création verbale. Gallimard, Paris, pp 265–308Google Scholar
  4. Bowman TE et al (2009) Creating a common climate language. Science 3:36–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Boykoff MT (2011) Who speaks for the climate? making sense of media reporting on climate change. CUP, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bres J, Nowakowska A (2008) J’exagère ?… Du dialogisme interlocutif. In: Birkelund M, Hansen M-B, Norén C (eds) L’énonciation dans tous ses états. Peter Lang, Bern, pp 1–27Google Scholar
  7. Budescu DV, Broomell S, Por H-H (2009) Improving communication of uncertainty in the reports of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Psychol Sci 20(3):299–308CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Climatic Change (2011) vol 108Google Scholar
  9. Ducrot O (1984) Le dire et le Dit. Minuit, ParisGoogle Scholar
  10. Eide E, Kunelius R, Kumpu V (eds) (2010) Global climate, local journalisms. A transnational study of how media make sense of climate summits. Projekt Verlag, BochumGoogle Scholar
  11. Filliettaz L (2001) L’organisation séquentielle et l’organisation compositionnelle. In: Roulet E, Filliettaz L, Grobet A (eds) Un modèle et un instrument d’analyse de l’organisation du discours, 307–350Google Scholar
  12. Fløttum K (2010) A linguistic and discursive view on climate change discourse. La revue du GERAS. ASp 58:19–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fløttum K, Dahl T (2011) Climate change discourse: scientific claims in a policy setting. Fachsprache 3–4:205–219Google Scholar
  14. Fløttum K, Dahl T (2012) Different contexts, different “stories”? A linguistic comparison of two development reports on climate change. Language and Communication 32(1):14–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fløttum K, Gjerstad Ø (Forthcoming) The role of poverty and social justice in South Africa’s “National Climate Change Response White paper”Google Scholar
  16. Gasper D, PortoCarrero AV, St. Clair AL (2011) Climate Change and Development Framings: A comparative analysis of the Human Development Report 2007/8 and the World Development Report 2010. Institute of Social Studies, Working paper No 528, The HagueGoogle Scholar
  17. Giddens A (2009) The politics of climate change. Polity Press, Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA, USGoogle Scholar
  18. Gjerstad Ø (2011) La polyphonie discursive. Pour un dialogisme ancré dans la langue et dans l’interaction. Doctoral dissertation. University of Bergen, BergenGoogle Scholar
  19. Gotti M (Ed) (In press) Narratives in Academic and Professional Genres, P. Lang, Bern (2012)Google Scholar
  20. Gross AG (1994) The roles of rhetoric in the public understanding of science. Public Underst Sci 3:3–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hulme M (2009) Why we disagree about climate change. CUP, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  22. Jones MD (2010) Heroes and Villains: Cultural Narratives, Mass Opinions and Climate Change, Doctoral dissertaion available at
  23. Jones MD, McBeth MK (2010) A narrative policy framework: clear enough to be wrong? Policy Stud J 38(2):329–353CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kerbrat-Orecchioni C (2002) Présupposé, présupposition. In: Charaudeau P, Maingueneau D (eds) Dictionnaire d’analyse du discourse. Seuil, Paris, pp 467–469Google Scholar
  25. Lyons J (1977) Semantics. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Malone EL (2009) Debating climate change. EarthScan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  27. Nerlich B, Koteyko N, Brown B (2010) Theory and language of climate change communication. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Chang 1(1):97–110Google Scholar
  28. Nølke H, Fløttum K, Norén C (2004) ScaPoLine. La théorie scandinave de la polyphonie linguistique. Kimé, ParisGoogle Scholar
  29. Patt A, Schrag DP (2003) Using specific language to describe risk and probability. Clim Chang 61:17–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Philander SG (2009) Where are you from? Why are you here? An African perspective on global warming. Ann Rev Earth Planet Sci 37:1–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Zehr SC (2000) Public representations of scientific uncertainty about global climate change. Public Underst Sci 9:85–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of BergenBergenNorway

Personalised recommendations