Discourse Analysis
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Discourse Analysis

Putting Our Worlds into Words

Susan Strauss, Parastou Feiz

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eBook - ePub

Discourse Analysis

Putting Our Worlds into Words

Susan Strauss, Parastou Feiz

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This introductory textbook presents a variety of approaches and perspectives that can be employed to analyze any sample of discourse. The perspectives come from multiple disciplines, including linguistics, sociolinguistics, and linguistic anthropology, all of which shed light on meaning and the interactional construction of meaning through language use. Students without prior experience in discourse analysis will appreciate and understand the micro-macro relationship of language use in everyday contexts, in professional and academic settings, in languages other than English, and in a wide variety of media outlets.

Each chapter is supported by examples of spoken and written discourse from various types of data sources, including conversations, commercials, university lectures, textbooks, print ads, and blogs, and concludes with hands-on opportunities for readers to actually do discourse analysis on their own. Students can also utilize the book's comprehensive companion website, with flash cards for key terms, quizzes, and additional data samples, for in-class activities and self-study.

With its accessible multi-disciplinary approach and comprehensive data samples from a variety of sources, Discourse Analysis is the ideal core text for the discourse analysis course in applied linguistics, English, education, and communication programs.

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Chapter One

Discourse, Words, and the World
Through language we shape our own relation to a socially organized lifeworld, one where the verbal calibration of diverse perceptions becomes part of the negotiation of ongoing social life … The word disrupts the world: Nothing in the lifeworld remains the same once language is invoked. (Du Bois 2011b).

Language and Discourse

DISCOURSE is the social and cognitive process of putting the world into words, of transforming our perceptions, experiences, emotions, understandings, and desires into a common medium for expression and communication, through language and other semiotic resources. Such semiotic resources include gestures, eye gaze, vocal intonations, and interactional gaps of silence; they include color and shape and imagery; and all elements of expression and communication that accompany our words and ideas—or that replace them, complement them, contrast them, or situate them in contexts. Discourse is the social and cognitive process that reflects, creates, shapes, re-creates, and reifies meaning in the lifeworld.
It is not an overstatement to assert that some form of language occupies nearly every moment of our waking lives: letters, words, sentences, signs, symbols, and thoughts—printed, spoken, computer-generated, flashed on screen, finger-spelled, imagined, and recalled. By and through language, we connect with some people, and put others off. We praise and complain, argue, agree, exaggerate, and downplay. By using language and not using language, we empathize and we ignore. We can be exuberant or caring or impassive.
We are constantly surrounded by and immersed in language. Our lives are jam-packed with language in its multiple forms, accompanied by the myriad semiotic resources that combine to shape language into discourse. (Coulthard, 1985).
Language is the very stuff that our daily communications are made of. It so completely fills our lives that we typically pay little attention to it; we may even take it for granted. On the surface, everyday language is commonsensical; it is there and we use it—to exchange ideas, to express desires, to take stands, to imagine, to create, and to understand. It is the very essence of what makes us human.
When some aspect of a communicative activity goes wonderfully right or woefully wrong, we find ourselves reviewing language, rewinding and playing back what we’ve heard or rereading what we’ve read, just to see why.
However, it’s not the language that we’re attending to when we notice words and phrases and tones of voice and attitudes. It is not the language itself that moves us or angers us or inspires us to act (or react). It is the discourse.
Discourse is the social and cognitive process of putting the world into words, of transforming our perceptions, experiences, emotions, understandings, and desires into a common medium for expression and communication, through language and other semiotic media. Discourse is more than letters and words, appearing one at a time or strung together, reflecting bits of thought and bits of meaning. Discourse is the composite process whereby elements of language combine with other elements of semiosis, like gestures, eye gaze, fluctuations in voice—rhythm, intonation, rate of speech, and spates of silence. It includes color and shape and imagery. Discourse is visual and aural; it is creative and musical—an entire system of social semiotics with its own patterns similar to the patterns of grammar in language (e.g., Hodge and Kress, 1988, 1993, 2010; Kress and van Leeuwen, 2001, 2006).
Discourse includes “all forms of meaningful semiotic human activity, seen in connection with social, cultural and historical patterns and development of use.” (Blommaert, 2005: 3). Discourse “reaches out further than language itself in the forms as well as meanings that can be the focus of analysis” (Jaworski and Coupland, 2006: 6). Discourse is language “recruited ‘on site’ to enact specific social activities and social identities” (Gee, 2005: 1). “Discourses1 are ideas as well as ways of talking that influence and are influenced by the ideas” (Johnstone, 2008: 3).
It is no wonder that the study of discourse has become key to a range of disciplines across the social sciences (communication, anthropology, sociology, political science, psychology, education, ethnic studies), humanities (gender studies, literature, history, composition, languages, media studies, arts and architecture), and sciences (geography, medicine, engineering).

Discourse: Putting the World Into Words

Expressing an emotion, depicting an event, labeling an object, locating a point in space—all involve choice. We choose words from among other possible words, or we invent one if our bank of existing words is insufficient. We use our limited repertoire of words, expressions, and symbols, and our even more limited patterns of grammar to “verbally calibrate” (Du Bois, 2011b), to express what we mean, in explicit terms or through gesture or drawing or implicature. And each and every time we do, we reveal something about how we perceive the world, we understand something about how others perceive it, and we guide others to see the world in various ways.
As Harris (1983: ix) notes in the introduction to his translation of Saussure’s Cours de linguistique générale, “[w]ords are not vocal labels which have come to be attached to things and qualities already given in advance by Nature, or to ideas already grasped independently by the human mind. On the contrary languages themselves, collective products of social interaction, supply the essential conceptual frameworks for men’s analysis of reality and, simultaneously, the verbal equipment for their description of it. The concepts we use are creations of the language we speak.”
* * *
Nothing in discourse is neutral. Each and every instance of discourse is imbued with some element of stance; it is motivated by a perspective.
Stance in discourse is one primary area of focus in this book. We define stance in the following way.
This book is about discourse. It is about the reflection, creation, shaping, re-creation, and reification of meaning in situated contexts. It is about locating and understanding meaning through various analytic lenses and using a variety of units of analysis: grammar and grammatical units, genre and generic structure, register, reference, deixis, information structure and intonation units, conversation analysis, conversational implicature, speech acts, politeness, face threatening acts, indexicality, identity, and the social construction of ideology and power.
STANCE is the speaker’s or writer’s feeling, attitude, perspective, or position as enacted in discourse. Stance-taking is an inevitable consequence of participating in and producing discourse, of putting the world into words. Stance emerges in a speaker’s or writer’s choice of one linguistic form over another, the coloring of utterances with prosodic contours or punctuation, the sequential ordering of utterances; it emerges in gestures, silences, hesitations, hedges, and in overlapping stretches of talk. In all of these instances of discourse (and others), a speaker’s or writer’s stance is enacted and created; it is negotiated and re-negotiated.
* * *
We provide a number of theoretical and methodological approaches to the analysis of discourse and texts,2 where micro-level instances of language and discourse combine to create, reflect, and shape the broader, macro-levels of meaning. The chapters in this book are systematically organized, with many common threads running through them. Each presents a theoretical and methodological overview of a number of approaches commonly used in discourse analytic research. Each includes excerpts of actual discourse, culled from face-to-face interactions, television (talk shows, dramas, sitcoms, weather, commercials), film, textbooks, cookbooks, magazines, print ads, and websites, to illustrate the concepts and methodologies presented. Each chapter includes sample analyses of these and other data excerpts, together with exercises and follow-up questions to encourage readers to probe well beyond the information provided. Each chapter also includes data excerpts from other languages, for readers interested in applying concepts from the English-based examples to other languages.
The chapters are organized as follows:

Chapter 2: The Building Blocks of Language: The Stuff That Discourse Is Made Of

Chapter 2 takes a basic cognitive approach to grammar, presenting it as a fluid and dynamic system of essential structure—a structure that is driven by conceptual imagery and choice. Nouns, or ways of naming entities and ideas, reflect conceptual schemas in terms of individuation or agglomeration, singularity or plurality, degrees of concreteness or abstractness. The noun snow typically denotes a mass of frozen precipitation, as it falls or as it has covered the ground. Pluralized, snows refers to repeated cycles of snowfall. In grammar and in discourse, a simple -s at the end of the word makes a conceptual difference. It reflects perception. It reflects stance. Verbs like suffer verses experience or undergo convey differing points of views of events and the entities involved in them. Adjectives like classic and signature and adverbs like now or more than ever underscore qualities of things and time frames for events, drawing attention to some elements in the discourse and eclipsing others. Grammar and discourse and stance are inextricably related. One cannot be analyzed without the other.

Chapter 3: Genre, Modality, Register, and Participation Framework

The chapter introduces genre as social practice, as a metaphorical, socioculturally shaped frame of discourse that provides basic structure with permeable boundaries to communicate essential content within a context and for a particular purpose. Recipes are discursive genres, as are narratives, sermons, lectures, and comedic monologues. Genres vary. Modalities (spoken, written, electronic, and hybrid) vary. Registers of discourse range from the everyday to the technical. Participation frameworks provide perspectives for participant roles like speakers, hearers, overhearers, and audiences. And with each variation and with each shift, the discourse changes—at times in blatantly obvious ways, and at times only subtly. The chapter provides these and other frames of reference that are crucial to the analysis of discourse.

Chapter 4: Reference, Deixis, and Stance

Reference involves designating things, ideas, entities, and people by picking them out with words and sometimes gestures. How we “refer” to things involves choice: How important is the entity to the speaker or writer? How specifically does it need to be designated? Is quantity relevant to referential choice? Is specificity? How much attention is the hearer or reader guided to pay to this referent? Such linguistic choices (with occasional gestures) pervade all of discourse. The chapter provides detailed discussion concerning how instances of reference pattern within discourse. We discuss socio-cognitive motivations underlying the range of meanings of possible markers of referential choice.

Chapter 5: Information Structure, Cohesion, and Intonation Units

The frameworks of information structure, cohesion, and intonation units provide insights into the ways in which topics, persons, ideas, memories, and events are introduced into the discourse and then developed. The chapter discusses the notion of “consciousness” from the point of view of givenness and newness of information—essentially, assumptions that producers of discourse make concerning the ability of discourse recipients to follow and process. The chapter shines light on the various ways in which language-in-interaction converts an individual’s personal experience and perception into a common communicative medium.

Chapter 6: Conversation

The analytic focus of discourse in this chapter shifts to talk-in-interaction, the mutually achieved understanding between and among participants in naturally occurring conversation. The chapter provides a detailed overview of Conversation Analysis (CA), pointing out mechanisms underlying turns-at-talk, including the mechanisms of turn construction, turn organization, turn sequencing, and speaker change. What is of prime importance in a CA-based analysis is the micro-second by micro-second orientations of conversational participants to talk as it emerges in interaction, rather than the general notion of “context” (e.g., where the talk takes place, who the interactants are, their relationship histories, etc.).

Chapter 7: Pragmatics—Implicature, Speech Act Theory, and Politeness

In contrast with Conversation Analysis, context is key to the study of pragmatics and to all fields related to it. Pragmatics is the area of linguistic and sociolinguistic study that is concerned with the ways in which speakers/hearers and writers/readers create and derive meaning from non-literal interpretations of spoken, written, electronic, and hybrid discourse. From this perspective, implicature and inference drive meaning making and interaction. The chapter presents various approaches to and applications of conversational implicature, speech act theory, and politeness, with some discussion of ...

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