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Distinct bite with firmness and focus - about the rhetoric of Robert Parke

Robert Parker has been called the world's most influential wine critic. His bimonthly magazine The Wine Advocate has more than 50,000 subscribers in almost forty countries. Parker's wine reviews have become so influential that even prestigious Bordeaux wines are adapted to his taste to sell well on today's ever more globalized wine market. As a result, his words have considerable impact in the world where his texts are staged. Robert Parker and his role in the wine world is the point of departure for a new dissertation from Linnaeus University, Sweden, written by linguistics scholar Dr Charlotte Hommerberg.

In her study, Hommerberg investigates the world view that Parker's texts communicate, and sheds light on linguistic factors that contribute to Parker's rhetorical success.

Parker's rhetoric is studied against the backdrop of the past few decades' exploding interest in wine as a symbol of a successful lifestyle. In order to ensure their consumption choice, many of today's consumers rely on the evaluation of consumption experts. Compared to other products, the choice of wine is particularly complicated, since wine appreciation involves four of the human senses. For most people, it is difficult to distinguish different sensory impressions when vision, smell, taste and touch are simultaneously activated. In addition, the complex sensory experience is intrinsically bound up with previous practice and acculturation. It is therefore of particular importance to entrust the choice of wine to a reliable authority. Parker has been regarded as a trustworthy wine judge since he positions himself as an independent consumer advocate, who is not impressed by established categories based on inherited traditions and lineage. At the same time, it is perhaps precisely the mystique and refinement associated with ancient traditions that entice today's increasingly globalized consumer groups to invest in the prestigious wines that Parker assesses.

The core of Hommerberg's study is made up of a number of selected wine reviews which are exposed to close, detailed scrutiny employing different analytical tools that are allowed to complement each other. The analytical methods that are used to dissect the texts enable exposure of taken-for-granted-ness and underlying values that are concealed in the texts' surface form. The investigation reveals a number of distinguishing textual traits that are linked to the reviews' persuasive potential. In all, the analysis shows that Parker succeeds in employing the rhetorical resources offered by the English language without deviating from the textual conventions that are typical for the particular genre.

Hommerberg's study treats Parker's writing as an example of exceptionally successful contemporary rhetoric and in that sense the study contributes to more general knowledge about the mechanisms of rhetorical persuasion. The choice of subject is also intended to accentuate the increasing importance that consumption has come to have as a driving force for present-day life. While the empirical results of the investigation are delimited to linguistic observations, the promotion of the topic is simultaneously intended to raise awareness of and encourage us to reflect on the effects of global consumption patterns on the existence of cultures.

The doctoral dissertation "Persuasiveness in the discourse of wine. The rhetoric of Robert Parker" was publicly defended on 9 December 2011 at Linnaeus University, Sweden. The opponent was Senior Lecturer Geoff Thompson, University of Liverpool, UK.

For more information, please contact Dr Charlotte Hommerberg, office phone +46(0)470708931 or mobile phone 0046(0)702151981, e-mail charlotte.hommerberg@lnu.se.

The dissertation can be ordered from Linnaeus University Press: lupress@lnu.se.

idw :: 15.12.2011