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An Introduction to Discourse Analysis

Discourse analysis is a hard term to pin down, as it refers to a large constellation of

theoretical trends and analytical strategies as opposed to a specific domain of knowledge.
In the most general sense, it refers to the analysis of language beyond the level of discrete
linguistic units; where discourse is understood not as a linguistic utterance, but rather as
an epistemological field of knowledge or inquiry, such as a political debate or a
philosophical problem.
Linguistic Determinism
o Linguistic determinism is the thesis that one's language to some extent
determines the way one sees and thinks about the world. A lot of discourse
analysis is geared toward analyzing the language that is used as the basis for
discussing important issues such as political debates and philosophical
problems. By analyzing the language surrounding these issues, discourse
analysis tried to understand how such debates are colored and what kinds of
insights are hidden within certain kinds of language or linguistic conventions.
Demonstrating Assumptions
o One strategy deployed by discourse analysis is to unearth and complicate the
assumptions upon which a particular discussion is founded. Almost all of the
things we talk about, whether mundane or highly intellectual, are built upon a
set of implicit assumptions that in a sense determine the way we think about
such things. By observing how such assumptions function and putting the
assumptions themselves in question, we can bring about more rigorous
Textual Analysis
o Textual analysis is the practice of analyzing the formal, rhetorical, and logical
connections that comprise a text, and understanding how these connections
work together to produce meaning. The idea behind a text can be expanded to
implicate entire philosophical or political debates, domains of knowledge, and
even images. Thus, we can talk about anything that demonstrates formal,
logical, and rhetorical connections in terms of a text.
o Deconstruction is a term originated by the German philosopher Martin
Heidegger, and later adopted and employed by the French philosopher
Jacques Derrida and the Belgian literary critic Paul de Man. Deconstruction
seeks to uncover and undermine deterministic assumptions, and to
demonstrate the rhetorical, formal, or logical inconsistencies within textual and
discursive systems through sustained close readings. Practitioners of
Deconstruction claim that it is not itself a particular analytical strategy per se,
but rather a kind of scholarly style and intellectual attitude that lends itself to
deep critical inquiry.
o "Power-knowledge" is a concept introduced by the French thinker Jacques
Foucault. For Foucault, epistemological systems are discursive "texts" that
embody an authorized viewpoint about reality. However, Foucault points out
that many of these systems have not only been constantly changed
throughout history, but furthermore are self-sustaining in that they produce
and affirm their own reality through nothing other than their claim to truth. This
gives them a certain amount of power in that they both produce and self-
authorize institutional knowledge and beliefs. For Foucault, discourse analysis
unveils the mechanisms of such discursive systems, revealing them as a
matter of historical contingencies rather than necessary actualities or objective

Discourse is a form of speaking or writing that expresses an organized, complete thought. Traditionally,
the four types of discourse are argument, narration, description and exposition / The primary types of
discourse are description, argument, narration and exposition

Argument is a type of discourse in which the writer or speaker attempts to convince an audience that his
or her opinion is correct through logic. Argument includes essays, lectures, sermons and political
speeches. In an argument, the writer or speaker begins with a thesis, which is a clear, explicit statement
of beliefs or opinions. The writer or speaker must then present evidence to support the thesis. If a
listener accepts the evidence, he or she should agree with the thesis.

An argument is not the same as persuasion. In an argument, the writer or speaker presents evidence to
get the audience to logically agree with his or her point of view. Persuasion, however, is designed to get
an audience to both accept a particular point of view and act on that belief. For example, a successful
argument might make the audience like a particular political candidate, but successful persuasion should
make the audience vote for that candidate.
With narrative discourse, an audience is told a story. The story is designed to make the audience feel
differently about a certain topic. Narrative discourse might take the form of a play, novel, folk tale,
personal narrative or myth.
In description, something is described based on the five senses. As discourse, description is designed
help the audience visualize people and places, but it also can put the audience in a particular mood or
create a certain type of atmosphere. The writer or speaker uses nouns and adjectives to give the
audience a sense of what something is like materially. Description might be found in a descriptive part
of a novel or in a descriptive essay.
Exposition is designed to inform the audience about a topic. There are several different types of
exposition, including definition, analysis, compare-and-contrast, problem-and-solution and cause-and-
effect. There are many strengths and weaknesses associated with each type of exposition, and each
type has a completely different purpose. For example, giving someone the definition of a word provides
one type of information, whereas comparing and contrasting two differing opinions provides an entirely
different type of information.

Discourse is more than casual conversation or a verbal exchange of ideas; it represents an extended and formal
expression of thought on a particular subject. The many modern approaches to discourse study are most often
based in the humanities, particularly within linguistics, communication studies, literature and philosophy, as
well as in humanity-based scientific disciplines such as anthropology, sociology and neuroscience. Each
discipline has its own definition and interpretation of discourse within its subjects context. Many disciplines
such as linguistics have multiple, and often conflicting, theories. The most effective approaches to
discourse study, therefore, are from within the context of a specific discipline.
In 17th century Renaissance Europe, discourse was viewed as a learned discussion whether written or
spoken on an important subject, particularly one that had political, religious, literary or philosophical
implications. The emphasis in the different approaches to discourse at the time was on topical content. In fact,
the term discourse was basically synonymous with dissertation or treatise. To study discourse, one
examined the arguments and ideas presented within the speech or tract. Far from being archaic, this approach
to the study of discourse is alive and well in many disciplines, particularly literature, philosophy and political
Early linguists declared discourse simply to be a stretch of language that was longer than a sentence, but many
modern linguists use discourse analysis to systematically study the forms and functions of discourse. Within
those stretches of language are, according to the discourse analyst, identifiable governing regularities or
patterns as distinct as fingerprints. Approaches to discourse analysis can include a variety of linguistic
behaviors, such as sentence structure, word choice and patterns of pronunciation, or such things as speech
encounters and semantic linking strategies. Linguistics also has evolved into a larger and more diverse
discipline; interactional sociolinguistics which, among other things, seeks to understand multicultural
contextualizing is just one of the branches that studies approaches to discourse.
Within the realm of the social sciences, discourse usually is considered a social practice that is distinguishable
by its intention. Furthermore, discourse is not just something spoken or written, it also supposes both a speaker
and listener who are, in a sense, objects. In this sense, not only does discourse have an object, it also is directed
to or at another object. The form that discourse takes can be almost anything spoken or written, including
poetry and prose. Discourse might include a political speech, a poem, an essay or even a graveside eulogy.
One of the prevailing approaches to discourse analysis, developed in the 1960s, is speech act theory. At its
core, speech act theory postulates that when a writer or speaker engages in discourse, he or she does something
beyond just using words to convey meaning. This doing something isnt as simplistic as putting pen to paper
or making vocalizations and gestures.
Speech act theory concerns the creation of an action-reaction dynamic between the speaker/writer and the
listener/reader. For example, it is presumed that effective spoken discourse has a measurable force that will
have a consequential effect on the listener. Sentences, under the speech act theory, do more than say things
they do things.