chapter  4
4 Social Languages, Conversations, and Intertextuality
Pages 19

My interpretation of this text is that there are two who-doing-whats in this warning, and they are interleaved. That is, there are two different answers to the question “Who is speaking to us?” and two corresponding answers to the question “What are they trying to do?” The first who/what combination is made up of the following sentences:

Here things are referred to quite specifically (“children and teenagers,” “this medication,” “chicken pox,” “flu,” “Reye Syndrome,” “aspirin,” “last 3 months,” “unborn child,” “delivery”), doctors are called “doctor,” and matters are treated emphatically (italics, capitals, “should not,” “rare but serious,” “especially important,” “specifically directed”). We will see that this language enacts one type of who seeking to accomplish one type of what. The second who-doing-what combination is made up of the following sentences, placed in the middle of the other two:

Here things are referred to more generally and generically (“this and all drugs,” “any drug,” and “this product,” rather than “this medication” and “aspirin”; “children” rather than “children and teenagers,” “pregnant” rather than “last 3 months of pregnancy”), doctors are not mentioned, rather the health profession is referred to more generally (“professional assistance,” “poison control center,” “health professional”), and matters are treated less stridently with the exception of the word “immediately” (here we get small print and the less strident phrases “keep out of the reach,” “accidental overdose,” “seek . . . assistance,” “seek . . . advice,” rather than the more direct “should not” and “important not to use” of the other part of the warning). This language enacts a different who seeking to accomplish a different what. These two who-doing-whats “feel” different. They are authorized and issued by different “voices” to different purposes and effects. The first speaks with a lawyerly voice (who) responding to specific potential legal problems and court cases (what); the second speaks with the official voice of a caring, but

authoritatively knowledgeable company (who) trying to protect and advise people, especially women and children, while still stressing that aspirin is not particularly special or dangerous compared to drugs in general (what). Of course, this second who-doing-what sits in some tension with the first. By the way, the second who-doing-what on the aspirin bottle used to be the only warning on the bottle (with the order of the sentences a bit different). And, indeed, the warning has changed yet again on newer bottles. This warning, like all utterances, reflects the company it has kept, or, to put the matter another way, it reflects the history that has given rise to it. In this case, presumably, the new sterner, more direct who-doing-what was added to the more general and avuncular one because the company got sued over things like Reye Syndrome. The warning on the aspirin bottle is heteroglossic. That is, it is “doublevoiced,” since it interleaves two different whos-doing-whats together. Of course, in different cases, this sort of interleaving could be much more intricate, with the two (or more) whos-doing-whats more fully integrated, and harder to tease apart.