Discourse analysis

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

The objects of discourse analysis—discourse, writing, conversation, communicative event—are variously defined in terms of coherent sequences of sentences, propositions, speech, 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. Text linguistics is a closely related field. The essential difference between discourse analysis and text linguistics is that discourse analysis 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, education, sociology, anthropology, social work, cognitive psychology, social psychology, area studies, cultural studies, international relations, human geography, communication studies, and translation studies, each of which is subject to its own assumptions, dimensions of analysis, and methodologies.

Topics of interest[edit]

Topics of discourse analysis include:[citation needed]

Political discourse[edit]

Political discourse analysis is a field of discourse analysis which focuses on discourse in political forums (such as debates, speeches, and hearings) as the phenomenon of interest. Policy analysis requires discourse analysis to be effective from the post-positivist perspective.

Political discourse is the informal exchange of reasoned views as to which of several alternative courses of action should be taken to solve a societal problem.[2]


Although the ancient Greeks (among others) had much to say on discourse, some scholars[which?] consider the Austrian emigre Leo Spitzer's Stilstudien [Style Studies] of 1928 the earliest example of discourse analysis (DA). It was translated into French by Michel Foucault.

However, 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 ignored these developments in favor of a succession of elaborate theories of sentence-level syntax and semantics.[3]

In January, 1953, 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. Following Harris's 1952 publications, he worked over the meaning and placement of each word in a collection of Quechua legends with a native speaker of Quechua and was able to formulate discourse rules that transcended the simple sentence structure. He then applied the process to Shipibo, another language of Eastern Peru. He taught the theory at the Summer Institute of Linguistics in Norman, Oklahoma, in the summers of 1956 and 1957 and entered the University of Pennsylvania to study with Harris in the interim year. He tried to publish a paper Shipibo Paragraph Structure, but it was delayed until 1970 (Loriot & Hollenbach 1970).[citation needed] 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 developed it in his writings.

Harris's methodology disclosing the correlation of form with meaning 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. An example is "conversational analysis", which was influenced by the Sociologist Harold Garfinkel, 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. In this context, the term 'discourse' no longer refers to formal linguistic aspects, but to institutionalized patterns of knowledge that become manifest in disciplinary structures and operate by the connection of knowledge and power. Since the 1970s, Foucault´s works have had an increasing impact especially on discourse analysis in the social sciences. Thus, in modern European social sciences, one can find a wide range of different approaches working with Foucault´s definition of discourse and his theoretical concepts. Apart from the original context in France, there is, at least since 2005, a broad discussion on socio-scientific discourse analysis in Germany. Here, for example, the sociologist Reiner Keller developed his widely recognized 'Sociology of Knowledge Approach to Discourse (SKAD)'.[4] Following the sociology of knowledge by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, Keller argues, that our sense of reality in everyday life and thus the meaning of every objects, actions and events are the product of a permanent, routinized interaction. In this context, SKAD has been developed as a scientific perspective that is able to understand the processes of 'The Social Construction of Reality' on all levels of social life by combining Michel Foucault's theories of discourse and power with the theory of knowledge by Berger/Luckmann. Whereas the latter primarily focus on the constitution and stabilisation of knowledge on the level of interaction, Foucault's perspective concentrates on institutional contexts of the production and integration of knowledge, where the subject mainly appears to be determined by knowledge and power. Therefore, the 'Sociology of Knowledge Approach to Discourse' can also be seen as an approach to deal with the vividly discussed micro-macro problem in sociology.


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.[7]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  1. ^ Yatsko V.A. Integrational discourse analysis conception
  2. ^ Johnson, David w. Johnson, Roger T. “Civil Political Discourse in a Democracy: The Contribution Of Psychology”. May 2000. www.co-operation.org/pages/contro-pol.html.
  3. ^ John Corcoran, then a colleague of Harris in Linguistics at University of Pennsylvania, summarized and critically examined the development of Harris’s thought on discourse through 1969 in lectures attended by Harris’ colleagues and students in Philadelphia and Cambridge. Corcoran, John, 1972. "Harris on the Structures of Language", in Transformationelle Analyse, ed. Senta Plötz, Athenäum Verlag, Frankfurt, 275–292.
  4. ^ Keller, Reiner (2011): The Sociology of Knowledge Approach to Discourse (SKAD), in: Human Studies 34 (1), 43-65.
  5. ^ Barbey, Aron K.; Colom, Roberto; Grafman, Jordan. "Neural mechanisms of discourse comprehension: a human lesion study". Brain 137 (1): 277–287. doi:10.1093/brain/awt312. 
  6. ^ Yates, Diana. "Researchers Map Brain Areas Vital to Understanding Language". University of Illinois News Bureau. University of Illinois. 
  7. ^ Gillian Brown "discourse Analysis"
  • Bhatia, V.J. (1993) Analysing Genre: Language in Professional Settings. England: Longman.
  • Bhatia, V.J. (2004) Worlds of Written Discourse. London: Continuum.
  • 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.
  • Corcoran, J. (1971). Discourse Grammars and the Structure of Mathematical Reasoning I, II, and III, Journal of Structural Learning 3.
  • Gee, J. P. (2005). An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method. London: Routledge.
  • Deese, James. Thought into Speech: The Psychology of 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.
  • Keller, R. (2011). The Sociology of Knowledge Approach to Discourse (SKAD). In: Human Studies 34 (1), 43-65.
  • Keller, R. (2013). Doing Discourse Research. An Introduction for Social Scientists. London: Sage
  • 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.
  • Underhill, James W. (2011). Creating Worldviews: metaphor, ideology & language, Edinburgh UP.
  • Underhill, James W. (2012). Ethnolinguistics & Cultural Concepts: truth, love, hate & war, Cambridge UP.

External links[edit]