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Definition of Discourse Analysis
It’s a way of looking at language. Grammarians
look at with grammar as the unit of analysis.
Discourse analysis is concerned with the
relationship between language and the contexts
it’s used in.
There may be a case for arguing some pieces of
language are a hybrid of the two.
Spoken discourse may cover telephone calls,
transactions in shops, interviews, etc..
Written discourse may cover newspapers,
poems, letters and so forth.
1. SPOKEN DISCOURSE
1.1 FORM and FUNCTION
Look at extract 1. Taken from the British comedy show
Morecombe and Wise.
ERNIE: Tell ‘em about the show.
ERIC: (to the audience) Have we got a show for you tonight folks!
Have we got a show for you!
(aside to Ernie) Have we got a show for them?
“Have we got a show for you” changes meaning or function
during the exchange. The important thing is how we recognize
this change. Interpretation is based essentially on context, the
relationship of the people, intonation, may be pitch, conventions
In a nutshell this is what discourse analysis is about. How we
interpret language, what makes sentences coherent, what we
are doing with the language.
A more accurate knowledge of this can help us when evaluating
materials, creating materials and using language in the
2. WRITTEN DISCOURSE
Apart from recognizing markers (past tense, gerund,
etc.) and cohesive devices (and, etc.) how did you
interpret the text?
What you do when you read is bring your knowledge
of the world and of writing to the text.
When you read there is a continual internal
conversation happening between you and the text.
You read “The broken house” and ask “Whose is the
house? Why is it broken? Is this an advert?” etc. and
this goes on until you satisfactorily interpret the text.
So how can we help students read? One way is
increasing world knowledge (by no means an easy
task!) and increasing knowledge of text patterns for
different text types.
Phenomenon –reason: Cause – consequence:
Instrument – achievement: Problem – solution
These are some common patterns found in writing.
The phrase “Feeling ill, he went home”.
Could be cause – consequence or even, problem -
The problem – solution pattern is typically used in
As teachers we can point out the vocabulary
that signals a pattern and then students
identify patterns in texts, (bottom-up) or we
indicate the patterns and let students find the
signaling vocabulary (top-down). Vocabulary
The result is…
The reason is….
The fact is that…
This contrasts with…
*Here is another exercise to help raise awareness and use of coherence in texts.
Give the first and last sentence of a text to all the students in a small group.
E.G. “Young people today are exposed to a lot of violence on TV”
“This suggests some sort of censorship may be necessary to solve the problem”
Then each student has to write individually a sentence from his cue E.G. “The result is”
“This contrast with” etc.
They then put all their sentences together and discuss how well the text gels and what
needs to change to make it work.
All of the ideas on Writing discourse of course are equally applicable to reading.
Definition: A speech act is a technical term in
linguistics and the philosophy of language. It is an
act that a speaker performs when making an
According to John L. Austin (1962) speech acts can
be analysed on three levels:
Locutionary act is simply the speech act that has
taken place the performance of an utterance. A
locutionary act is the act of using a referring
expression and a predicating expression to
express a proposition.
A warning: “I warn you to stop smoking”
It constitutes an expressed locutionary act because
its propositional content predicates a future act
(to stop smoking) of the hearer (you).
Illocutionary act is the real action which is
performed by the utterance. It is the semantic
'illocutionary force' of the utterance, thus the real,
In performing a illocutionary act, it can be
performed such an act as:
In saying, "Watch out, the ground is slippery",
Mary performs the speech act of warning
Peter to be careful.
Perlocutionary act is the actual effect, an action or
state of mind brought about by, or as a
consequence of, saying something.
Perlocutionary effect is in some sense external to
the performance, it may be thought of, in a sense,
as the effect of the illocutionary act. Therefore,
when examining perlocutionary acts, the effect on
the hearer or reader is emphasized.
Pragmatics is a systematic way of explaining
language use in context to explain aspects of
meaning which cannot be found in the plain
sense of words or structures.
We can illustrate how pragmatics works by an
example from association football. It sometimes
happens that a team-mate will shout at me: “Man
For example, it can elicit different lexical
meanings of the noun “man” (mankind or the
human race, an individual person, a male person
specifically) and the preposition “on” (on top of,
above, or other relationships as in “on fire”, “on
heat”, “on duty”, “on the fiddle” or “on the telly”).
And it can also explain structural meaning, and
account for the way this phrase works in longer
sequences such as the “first man on the moon”,
“a man on the run” or “the man on top of the
“Man on” is an established form of warning. For all I
know, professional players may have their own
covert forms, as when they signal a routine at a
free kick, corner or throw-in, by calling a number
or other code word.
Linguists have called these things “speech acts” -
and developed a theory (called, unsurprisingly,
“speech act theory”) to explain how they work.
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