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discourse analysis

April 14, 2013

Name: Fatimah

NIM: 2201410061

Summary Discourse Analysis

Simpson, James.2011.The Routledge Handbook of Applied Linguistics. New York: Routledge



Applied linguistics (AL) interest in discourse analysis (DA) originated in an awareness of the inability of formal linguistics to account for how participants in communication achieve meaning. Discourse can be defined as a stretch of language in use, of any length and in any mode, which achieves meaning and coherence for those involved. Discourse analysis can be defined as the use and development of theories and methods which elucidate how this meaning and coherence is achieved. This quest makes DA inevitably concerned not only with language, but with all element and processes which contribute to communication. The AL DA tradition thus currently combines the strengths of linguistics and non-linguistic perspectives, making it the most powerful and rigorous tool for the analysis of language in use. Consequently, it has a great deal to offer to social theory and sociology on the one hand, and to linguistics on the other.

An issue is how to distinguish DA from the other approaches to language use included elsewhere in this volume. The study of ESP, EAP, institutions, medical communication, the media, and classrooms all involve the practice of DA, while conversation analysis, corpus linguistics, critical discourse analysis, linguistic ethnography, multimodal analysis, and stylistics are all among its tools.


Early AL DA

In the 1950s DA was understood in theoretical structural linguistics as the potential extension of language analysis beyond the level of single sentences to discover distributional principles between sentences as well as within them (Harris 1952). Halliday’s concerns with language function (e.g. 1973) and the use of language as a social semiotic (e.g. 1978), were key influences from linguistics which helped move DA in AL beyond an interest in merely extending linguistic analysis.

In 1970s and 1980s, DA was and remains fundamental to the guiding principle of communicative language teaching and its later developments. At this point in its history, DA was fairly readily defined as an extension of formal linguistics, or a refutation of it, depending on one’s point of view.


Text, context, and discourse

Much early DA work in AL saw text (the linguistic element in communication) as essentially distinct from context (the non-linguistic elements) and discourse as the two in interaction to create meaning. If context and text are separate, then the status of text itself becomes precarious.

If considered as linguistic forms, temporarily and artificially separated from context for the purposes of analysis, text ceases to have any actual existence, and seems at odds with the aim of DA to deal with the realities of language in use rather than linguistic abstractions. There is no use of language which does not also have a situation, participants, co-text, paralanguage, etc.



Interest in the role of context led initially to the classic texts of pragmatics (Austin 1962; Searle 1969, 1975; Grice 1975) and attention to how discourse is structured by what speakers are trying to do with their words, and how their intentions are recognized by their interlocutors.


Schema theory

Schema theory is a powerful tool in DA as it can help to explain both high level aspects of understanding such as coherence, and low level linguistic phenomena such as article choice. In the binary conception of discourse as text + context a schema can be classed as context, as it is a kind of knowledge, derived from experience of the world, in whose light each new text is interpreted.


Conversation analysis

CA’s primary interest is in the social act (Seedhouse 2004: 3) and it ‘is only marginally interested in language as such’ (Hutchby and Wooffift 1998: 14). CA made use of newly available recording technology to transcribe and closely analyze actually occurring conversation, seeking to understand how participants ‘make sense of, find their way about in, and act on the circumstances in which they find themselves’ (Heritage 1984: 4) and through this close analysis to understand the patterns of social life (Bhatia et al. 2008: 4) as realized in talk.

Although initially concerned with conversation, later CA work has moved on to study talk in a variety of contexts. CA it confines itself, in the interests of methodological rigor, to the analysis of the immediate mechanisms of talk, avoiding speculation about the mental states these mechanisms reflect and create, or the larger social realities and histories which they both constitute and reflect.


Ethnography, language ecology, linguistic ethnography


Ethnography seeks an understanding of culture through an analysis of all details of everyday life in a given context. One particular ethnographic notion from which DA can benefit is that of the irreducibility of experience. The ethnographer’s preoccupation with the relationship between researcher and participants, and how findings, may be skewed by the former’s identity and preconceptions.

Arguing that close linguistic analysis is always a sound entry point into cultural understanding, linguistic ethnographers draw upon a number of precedent influences. LE seeks simultaneously to ‘tie ethnography down’ and ‘to open linguistics up’ making it highly relevant resource for DA.

Besides, ecology seeks to relate language use to its physical and social environment, and the affordances this environment provides. It sees language as a historically contingent phenomenon negotiated in daily interactions, and pays particular attention to the dynamic relation of language and cultural change, historical expansion, displacement (e.g. by migration), continuity, and transformation.


Semiotics, paralanguage and multimodality

The notion of language without paralanguage is indeed one of the idealizations of linguistics against which DA defines itself. Every spoken utterance has a volume, speed, pitch and intonation in addition to its linguistic form, propositional content and pragmatic force, and these paralinguistic elements convey key information about the speaker’s identity, attitude, and commitment. The issues of how paralanguage can be transcribed and analyzed raises considerable problems as paralinguistic phenomena are of their nature graded, irreducible and often ambiguous, and transcriptions of them necessarily a selection and an interpretation.

            Multimodal analysis concerns itself largely with the multiple dimensions of meaning made possible by modern printing, computer and mobile technologies, paying attention to the significance of the presentation of the written words themselves (Walker 2001), in different fonts, colors, sizes, arrangements, animations, etc., and to the many communicative modes with which they co-occur, such as still and moving pictures, music, diagrams, tables, etc.


Larger structures

Despite their differences, all of the approaches discussed so far have an important element in common. Though they may aim for, and obtain, far reaching conclusions about communication, culture and society, they take as a starting point a fine-grained analysis of language in use, assembling evidence of what happens in instances of communication, before making generalizations. Other approaches, however, take the opposite approach, they are:


–        Genre analysis


Genre analysis seeks to understand any communicative event as an instance of a genre, defined as ‘a class of communicative events which share some set of communicative purposes’ (Swales 1990: 58). The examples are academic articles, news bulletins, advertisements, prayers, operas, menus. Genre analysis then seeks, through fine-grained analysis, to identify the conventions which characterize these different genres.


–        Critical discourse analysis (CDA)


CDA is concerned with ideology, power relations and social injustices, and how these are represented and reproduced through language. While CDA has attracted widespread support it has also been subjected to criticism for bias and partiality (Widdowson 1995, 1998), lack of rigor and circularity (Stubbs 1998), and confusion and inconsistency in its cognitive and linguistic theoretical bases (Stubbs 1998; O’Halloran 2003) or methodology (Hammersley 1997).


Back to detail and forward to generalization: corpus linguistics

The advent of corpus analysis, however (see Adolphs and Lin, this volume) has enabled DA partially to redress these shortcomings, and to add a quantitative dimension to research. With its power to place any particular instance of language in the context of its use across a wide range of comparable texts or the language as a whole, corpus comparisons have enabled discourse analysts to talk with confidence about the typicality of any text under consideration.

Yet in its quest for understanding of how participants in communication achieve meaning, DA cannot limit itself to textual analysis alone, any more than it can limit itself to the cultural and psychological context of language use without attention to actual text.



Final words

Whether discourse analysis still has any identity separate from the many traditions on which it has drawn. While it may be commendable to draw eclectically upon the strengths of many research traditions to gain a rich insight into communication, there is a valid case for saying that there is no longer a single theory or method of analysis which can be clearly labeled as discourse analysis.






  1. Q: What will happen if the text and context are separate?

A: If context and text are separate, then the status of text itself becomes precarious.

 And the reader will find it difficult to understand the text, s/he cannot convey the meaning of what the writer intended.

  1. Q: What does co-text in pragmatics mean?

A:  the notion of context that depends on the text surrounding an utterance.




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