Discourse analysis

Discourse analysis

Discourse analysis (DA), or discourse studies, is a general term for a number of approaches to analyzing written, spoken, signed language use or any significant semiotic event.

The objects of discourse analysis—discourse, writing, talk, conversation, communicative event, etc.—are variously defined in terms of coherent sequences of sentences, propositions, speech acts or turns-at-talk. Contrary to much of traditional linguistics, discourse analysts not only study language use 'beyond the sentence boundary', but also prefer to analyze 'naturally occurring' language use, and not invented examples. This is known as corpus linguistics; text linguistics is related. The essential difference between discourse analysis and text linguistics is that it aims at revealing socio-psychological characteristics of a person/persons rather than text structure[1].

Discourse analysis has been taken up in a variety of social science disciplines, including linguistics, sociology, anthropology, social work, cognitive psychology, social psychology, international relations, human geography, communication studies and translation studies, each of which is subject to its own assumptions, dimensions of analysis, and methodologies. Sociologist Harold Garfinkel was another influence on the discipline: see below.



Some scholars[which?] consider the Austrian emigre Leo Spitzer's Stilstudien [Style Studies] of 1928 the earliest example of discourse analysis (DA); Michel Foucault himself translated it into French. But the term first came into general use following the publication of a series of papers by Zellig Harris beginning in 1952 and reporting on work from which he developed transformational grammar in the late 1930s. Formal equivalence relations among the sentences of a coherent discourse are made explicit by using sentence transformations to put the text in a canonical form. Words and sentences with equivalent information then appear in the same column of an array. This work progressed over the next four decades (see references) into a science of sublanguage analysis (Kittredge & Lehrberger 1982), culminating in a demonstration of the informational structures in texts of a sublanguage of science, that of immunology, (Harris et al. 1989) and a fully articulated theory of linguistic informational content (Harris 1991). During this time, however, most linguists decided a succession of elaborate theories of sentence-level syntax and semantics.

Although Harris had mentioned the analysis of whole discourses, he had not worked out a comprehensive model, as of January, 1952. A linguist working for the American Bible Society, James A. Lauriault/Loriot, needed to find answers to some fundamental errors in translating Quechua, in the Cuzco area of Peru. He took Harris's idea, recorded all of the legends and, after going over the meaning and placement of each word with a native speaker of Quechua, was able to form logical, mathematical rules that transcended the simple sentence structure. He then applied the process to another language of Eastern Peru, Shipibo. He taught the theory in Norman, Oklahoma, in the summers of 1956 and 1957 and entered the University of Pennsylvania in the interim year. He tried to publish a paper Shipibo Paragraph Structure, but it was delayed until 1970 (Loriot & Hollenbach 1970). In the meantime, Dr. Kenneth Lee Pike, a professor at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, taught the theory, and one of his students, Robert E. Longacre, was able to disseminate it in a dissertation.

Harris's methodology was developed into a system for the computer-aided analysis of natural language by a team led by Naomi Sager at NYU, which has been applied to a number of sublanguage domains, most notably to medical informatics. The software for the Medical Language Processor is publicly available on SourceForge.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, and without reference to this prior work, a variety of other approaches to a new cross-discipline of DA began to develop in most of the humanities and social sciences concurrently with, and related to, other disciplines, such as semiotics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, and pragmatics. Many of these approaches, especially those influenced by the social sciences, favor a more dynamic study of oral talk-in-interaction.

Mention must also be made of the term "Conversational analysis", which was influenced by the Sociologist Harold Garfinkel who is the founder of Ethnomethodology.

In Europe, Michel Foucault became one of the key theorists of the subject, especially of discourse, and wrote The Archaeology of Knowledge on the subject.

Topics of interest

Topics of discourse analysis include:

  • The various levels or dimensions of discourse, such as sounds (intonation, etc.), gestures, syntax, the lexicon, style, rhetoric, meanings, speech acts, moves, strategies, turns and other aspects of interaction
  • Genres of discourse (various types of discourse in politics, the media, education, science, business, etc.)
  • The relations between discourse and the emergence of syntactic structure
  • The relations between text (discourse) and context
  • The relations between discourse and power
  • The relations between discourse and interaction
  • The relations between discourse and cognition and memory


The following are some of the specific theoretical perspectives and analytical approaches used in linguistic discourse analysis:

Although these approaches emphasize different aspects of language use, they all view language as social interaction, and are concerned with the social contexts in which discourse is embedded.

Often a distinction is made between 'local' structures of discourse (such as relations among sentences, propositions, and turns) and 'global' structures, such as overall topics and the schematic organization of discourses and conversations. For instance, many types of discourse begin with some kind of global 'summary', in titles, headlines, leads, abstracts, and so on.

A problem for the discourse analyst is to decide when a particular feature is relevant to the specification is required. Are there general principles which will determine the relevance or nature of the specification.[2]

Prominent discourse analysts

Marc Angenot, Robert de Beaugrande, Jan Blommaert, Adriana Bolivar, Carmen Rosa Caldas-Coulthard, Robyn Carston, Wallace Chafe, Paul Chilton, Guy Cook, Malcolm Coulthard, James Deese, Paul Drew, John Du Bois,Alessandro Duranti, Brenton D. Faber, Norman Fairclough, Michel Foucault, Roger Fowler, James Paul Gee, Talmy Givón, Charles Goodwin, Art Graesser, Michael Halliday, Zellig Harris, John Heritage, Janet Holmes, Paul Hopper, Gail Jefferson, Barbara Johnstone, Walter Kintsch, Richard Kittredge, Adam Jaworski, William Labov, George Lakoff, Stephen H. Levinsohn, James A. Lauriault/Loriot, Robert E. Longacre, Jim Martin, David Nunan, Elinor Ochs, Gina Poncini, Jonathan Potter, Edward Robinson, Nikolas Rose, Harvey Sacks, Svenka Savic Naomi Sager, Emanuel Schegloff, Deborah Schiffrin, Michael Schober, Stef Slembrouck, Michael Stubbs, John Swales, Deborah Tannen, Sandra Thompson, Teun A. van Dijk, Theo van Leeuwen, Jef Verschueren, Henry Widdowson, Carla Willig, Deirdre Wilson, Ruth Wodak, Margaret Wetherell, Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, Judith M. De Guzman, Cynthia Hardy, Louise J. Phillips

Further reading

  1. ^ Yatsko V.A. Integrational discourse analysis conception
  2. ^ Gillian Brown "discourse Analysis"
  • Blommaert, J. (2005). Discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Brown, G., and George Yule (1983). Discourse Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Carter, R. (1997). Investigating English Discourse. London: Routledge.
  • Gee, J. P. (2005). An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method. London: Routledge.
  • Deese, James. Thought into Speech: The Psychology og a Language.Century Psychology Series. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1984.
  • Halliday, M.A.K., and Greaves, W.S. (2008). Intonation in the Grammar of English, London, Equinox.
  • Halliday, M.A.K., and C.M.I.M. Matthiessen (2004). An introduction to functional grammar, 3d ed. London, Arnold
  • Harris, Zellig S. (1952a). "Culture and Style in Extended Discourse". Selected Papers from the 29th International Congress of Americanists (New York, 1949), vol.III: Indian Tribes of Aboriginal America ed. by Sol Tax & Melville J[oyce] Herskovits, 210-215. New York: Cooper Square Publishers. (Repr., New York: Cooper Press, 1967. Paper repr. in 1970a, pp. 373–389.) [Proposes a method for analyzing extended discourse, with example analyses from Hidatsa, a Siouan language spoken in North Dakota.]
  • Harris, Zellig S. (1952b.) "Discourse Analysis". Language 28:1.1-30. (Repr. in The Structure of Language: Readings in the philosophy of language ed. by Jerry A[lan] Fodor & Jerrold J[acob] Katz, pp. 355–383. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964, and also in Harris 1970a, pp. 313–348 as well as in 1981, pp. 107–142.) French translation "Analyse du discours". Langages (1969) 13.8-45. German translation by Peter Eisenberg, "Textanalyse". Beschreibungsmethoden des amerikanischen Strakturalismus ed. by Elisabeth Bense, Peter Eisenberg & Hartmut Haberland, 261-298. München: Max Hueber. [Presents a method for the analysis of connected speech or writing.]
  • Harris, Zellig S. 1952c. "Discourse Analysis: A sample text". Language 28:4.474-494. (Repr. in 1970a, pp. 349–379.)
  • Harris, Zellig S. (1954.) "Distributional Structure". Word 10:2/3.146-162. (Also in Linguistics Today: Published on the occasion of the Columbia University Bicentennial ed. by Andre Martinet & Uriel Weinreich, 26-42. New York: Linguistic Circle of New York, 1954. Repr. in The Structure of Language: Readings in the philosophy of language ed. by Jerry A[lan] Fodor & Jerrold J[acob] Katz, 33-49. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964, and also in Harris 1970.775-794, and 1981.3-22.) French translation "La structure distributionnelle,". Analyse distributionnelle et structurale ed. by Jean Dubois & Françoise Dubois-Charlier (=Langages, No.20), 14-34. Paris: Didier / Larousse.
  • Harris, Zellig S. (1963.) Discourse Analysis Reprints. (= Papers on Formal Linguistics, 2.) The Hague: Mouton, 73 pp. [Combines Transformations and Discourse Analysis Papers 3a, 3b, and 3c. 1957, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania. ]
  • Harris, Zellig S. (1968.) Mathematical Structures of Language. (=Interscience Tracts in Pure and Applied Mathematics, 21.) New York: Interscience Publishers John Wiley & Sons). French translation Structures mathématiques du langage. Transl. by Catherine Fuchs. (=Monographies de Linguistique mathématique, 3.) Paris: Dunod, 248 pp.
  • Harris, Zellig S. (1970.) Papers in Structural and Transformational Linguistics. Dordrecht/ Holland: D. Reidel., x, 850 pp. [Collection of 37 papers originally published 1940-1969.]
  • Harris, Zellig S. (1981.) Papers on Syntax. Ed. by Henry Hiż. (=Synthese Language Library, 14.) Dordrecht/Holland: D. Reidel, vii, 479 pp.]
  • Harris, Zellig S. (1982.) "Discourse and Sublanguage". Sublanguage: Studies of language in restricted semantic domains ed. by Richard Kittredge & John Lehrberger, 231-236. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
  • Harris, Zellig S. (1985.) "On Grammars of Science". Linguistics and Philosophy: Essays in honor of Rulon S. Wells ed. by Adam Makkai & Alan K. Melby (=Current Issues in Linguistic Theory, 42), 139-148. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Harris, Zellig S. (1988a) Language and Information. (=Bampton Lectures in America, 28.) New York: Columbia University Press, ix, 120 pp.
  • Harris, Zellig S. 1988b. (Together with Paul Mattick, Jr.) "Scientific Sublanguages and the Prospects for a Global Language of Science". Annals of the American Association of Philosophy and Social Sciences No.495.73-83.
  • Harris, Zellig S. (1989.) (Together with Michael Gottfried, Thomas Ryckman, Paul Mattick, Jr., Anne Daladier, Tzvee N. Harris & Suzanna Harris.) The Form of Information in Science: Analysis of an immunology sublanguage. Preface by Hilary Putnam. (=Boston Studies in the Philosophy of, Science, 104.) Dordrecht/Holland & Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, xvii, 590 pp.
  • Harris, Zellig S. (1991.) A Theory of Language and Information: A mathematical approach. Oxford & New York: Clarendon Press, xii, 428 pp.; illustr.
  • Jaworski, A. and Coupland, N. (eds). (1999). The Discourse Reader. London: Routledge.
  • Johnstone, B. (2002). Discourse analysis. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Kittredge, Richard & John Lehrberger. (1982.) Sublanguage: Studies of language in restricted semantic domains. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
  • Loriot, James and Barbara E. Hollenbach. 1970. "Shipibo paragraph structure." Foundations of Language 6: 43-66. The seminal work reported as having been admitted by Longacre and Pike. See link below from Longacre's student Daniel L. Everett.
  • Longacre, R.E. (1996). The grammar of discourse. New York: Plenum Press.
  • Miscoiu, S., Craciun O., Colopelnic, N. (2008). Radicalism, Populism, Interventionism. Three Approaches Based on Discourse Theory. Cluj-Napoca: Efes.
  • Renkema, J. (2004). Introduction to discourse studies. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  • Sager, Naomi & Ngô Thanh Nhàn. (2002.) "The computability of strings, transformations, and sublanguage". The Legacy of Zellig Harris: Language and information into the 21st Century, Vol. 2: Computability of language and computer applications, ed. by Bruce Nevin, John Benjamins, pp. 79–120.
  • Schiffrin, D., Deborah Tannen, & Hamilton, H. E. (eds.). (2001). Handbook of Discourse Analysis. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Stubbs, M. (1983). Discourse Analysis: The sociolinguistic analysis of natural language. Oxford: Blackwell
  • Teun A. van Dijk, (ed). (1997). Discourse Studies. 2 vols. London: Sage.
  • Potter, J, Wetherall, M. (1987). Discourse and Social Psychology: Beyond attitudes and behaviour. London: SAGE.

See also

External links

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