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Discourse analysis

Cohesion, coherence, text

types, conversation analysis

Overview of the lecture


Areas of study

1. Definitions and scope

Discourse analysis is an umbrella term for all

those studies within applied linguistics which
focus on units/stretches of language beyond
the sentence level. In discourse analysis the
highest unit of language is the text, and
language is studied in its context.
Discourse analysis considers language in its
full textual, social, and psychological context.
Discourse analysis is relevant to language
teaching since learners have to learn how to
produce and comprehend texts not only
sentences (discourse competence).

What is a text?
A text is "a communicative occurrence which meets []
the standards of textuality" (de Beaugrande & Dressler,
1983, p. 3).
Standards of textuality:
1. Cohesion "[...] concerns the ways in which the components
of the surface text, i.e. the actual words we hear or see,
are mutually connected within a sequence.
2. Coherence "[...] concerns the ways in which the components
of the textual world, i.e. the configuration of concepts and
relations which underlie the surface text, are mutually
accessible and relevant". Coherence is the outcome of
cognitive processes among text users (see below).
3. Intentionality "[...] the text producers attitude that the set of
occurrences should constitute a cohesive and coherent
text instrumental in fulfilling the producers intentions, e.g.,
to distribute knowledge or to attain a goal specified in a

What is a text?
Cohesion and coherence
Background knowledge
Spoken vs. written style
Genre analysis
Conversation analysis
Gricean maxims of communication

Forms and functions

Cohesion and coherence
Theme and rheme
Speech acts
Conversation analysis
Genre analysis
Spoken vs. written language

Cohesion and coherence

Halliday and Hasan (1976)

Cohesion is linguistically explicit and signals
underlying semantic relationships between text
Coherence: underlying organiser which makes
the words and sentences into a unified
discourse that conforms to a consistent world
picture. A coherent text is meaningful, unified,
and gives the impression of "hanging

Categories of discourse cohesion


Arthur's very proud of his Chihuahuas. I don't
like them.


Tell a story. I don't know one.


How did you enjoy the paintings? A lot (of the

paintings) were very good but not all (the



Anaphoric reference: referring

backwards E.g. I can see a bird. It is
singing. (It refers backwards to bird.)
Cataphoric reference: referring forward.
E.g. When they arrived at the house, all
the participants were very tired. (They
refers forward to participants).

They thought he didn't believe them. And this

was true.

Lexical cohesion
He met an old lady. The lady was looking at
him for a while...

Relationship between cohesion and

Cohesion and coherence are related notions, but they
are clearly distinct. There are two types of views
concerning their relationship.
A) Cohesion is neither necessary nor sufficient to account
for coherence.
A: That's the telephone.
B: I'm in the bath.
A: O.K.
(Widdowson, 1978, p. 12)

Background knowledge (schemata)

B) Cohesion is necessary, though not sufficient in the

creation of coherent texts. In other words, cohesion is
a crucial though not exclusive factor contributing to
coherence, since it facilitates the comprehension of
underlying semantic relations.

Some areas of investigation

How does cohesion contribute to coherence in native

How does cohesion contribute to coherence in non-native
Comparison of cohesion in native and non-native
Comparing cohesion in different genres (newspaper
articles, novels, informal letters, informal dialogues, etc.);
Cohesion in child language and adult language;
Cohesion at the different levels of language proficiency;
Cohesion in different languages;
Cohesion in disordered vs. normal talk;
Cohesion in translations;
Teaching cohesion to non-native speakers.

Frames: data structures that represent stereotypical

Scripts: contain information on event sequences.
Scripts may include scenes, roles and props.
Scripts help explain that expectations play an
important role in understanding discourse. When we
hear a situation being described, we expect that
certain events take place.
Schema/schemata: high-level complex knowledge
structures (van Dijk, 1977) that help the organisation
and interpretation of one's experience. "Schemata lead
us to expect or predict aspects in our interpretation of
discourse" (Brown & Yule, 1983, p. 248). Schemata
help explain why a text is understood easier and faster
if a title is provided.
Schemata can also be culture-specific; for example the
schema of a wedding ceremony varies culture by

Text types: Comparing written and

spoken texts
1. Written language
Functions of written language:
action: e.g. public signs, product labels and instructions,
recipes, maps, TV-guides, bills, menus, telephone
social contact: e.g. letters, postcards, greeting cards;
information: e.g. newspapers, magazines, non-fiction
books, textbooks, advertisements, reports, guidebooks;
entertainment: e.g. light magazines, fiction books,
poetry, drama, film subtitles, games.

Spoken language
Intonation expresses grammatical, attitudinal, and
discourse meaning.
Tone (melody): fall, rise-fall, rise, fall-rise, level
It was INteresting.
It WAS interesting.
Functions of spoken language:
action: guidelines or directions given, teacher
social contact: telephone conversations, chats;
information: lecture, presentation, political speech;
entertainment: jokes, radio programs

Genre analysis
All text-types have their own system of linguistic, rhetorical
and organisational characteristics. Therefore, genre
analysts set out to investigate what makes a letter a
letter, or what makes a radio announcement a radio
"A genre comprises a class of communicative events the
members of which share some set of communicative
purposes. These purposes are recognized by the expert
members of the parent discourse community, and
thereby constitute the rationale for the genre. This
rationale shapes the schematic structure of the
discourse and influences and constrains choice of
content and style. Exemplars of a genre exhibit
various patterns of similarity in terms of structure, style,
content and intended audience. If all high probability
expectations are realized, the exemplar will be viewed as
prototypical by the parent discourse community"
(Swales, 1990, p. 58).

Spoken language

Written language

Shared situation

No shared situation

On-line interaction
Verbal and non-verbal
No careful editing

Delayed interaction

Time pressure

Verbal means
Revising, editing
No time pressure

Linguistic analyses of various genres

Linguistic phenomenon


lexical density: ratio of

grammatical (function) words
and lexical (content) words
nominalization: number of
type/token ratio: number of
newly introduced lexical
repetition: number of
repeated lexical items
personal pronouns (1st and
2nd person)

Formal (informational
genres) informal genres
Formal (informational
genres) informal genres
Formal (informational
genres) informal genres
Formal (informational
genres) informal genres
Formal (informational
genres) informal genres

Conversation analysis

Conversational rules and structure

Conversation has been considered as the most

fundamental means of conducting human affairs since
this is the prototypical kind of language usage.
Purposes of conversation:
Exchange of information
Creating and maintaining social relationships (e.g.
Negotiation of status and social roles
Deciding on and carrying out joint actions (co-operation)
The primary and overriding function of conversation is
clearly the social function, i.e. the maintenance of social

Openings: There are conventional routines for openings.

E.g.: greetings, introduction, opening questions.
Closings: Intentions to close a conversation are usually
expressed with closing signals such as 'well', 'so', 'okay'
used with falling intonation.
Turn-taking mechanisms: intention to let the
conversational partner speak is signalled with low voice,
slowing down, putting a question, body movement. In
smooth communication less than five per cent is
delivered in overlap.
Adjacency pairs: utterances which require an immediate
response or reaction from the partner (greeting-greeting,
offer-accept, compliment-thank, question-answer); there
are always preferred and non-preferred answers, and it
is difficult for learners to distinguish between them
Back-channelling: signals that show the speaker that
his/her message is understood and listened to.
Examples: Uhhuh, yeah, right.

Gricean maxims of communication

Non-observance of maxims

Grice (1975) proposed four criteria for co-operative

A) Maxim of relevance: In communication, each person's
contribution has to be relevant to the topic. For
example in the following exchange this maxim is not
A: Would you like some coffee?
B: I disagree with this solution.
B) Maxim of truthfulness: Contributions in conversations
should be truthful (exceptions are jokes, deliberate
c) Maxim of quantity: In conversations, talking time should
be fairly divided between interlocutors, and one should
strive for brevity (this maxim is often not observed).
D) Maxim of clarity: Messages conveyed should not be
obscure or ambiguous.

Flouting a maxim: the speaker blatantly fails to observe

the maxim, because he wants to the hearer to find
additional meaning to the one expressed. This is called
conversational implicature. For example:

How are you getting there?

We are getting there by car (meaning you are not

coming with us maxim of quantity flouted because it
would have been enough to say by car).
Violating a maxim speaker wants to mislead the listener
Infringing a maxim not observing the maxim because of
lack of linguistic knowledge (e.g. L2 learners).
Opting out of a maxim the speaker is unwilling to abide
by the maxims (e.g. withholding information).
Suspending a maxim in certain situations it is not
necessary to observe the maxims (e.g. poetry).


What is cohesion and what is coherence?

What is the relationship between cohesion and
What are the categories of discourse cohesion in
English? Illustrate each category with an example.
How do frames, scripts and schemata help understand
discourse?What are the differences between spoken
and written language?
List examples for the functions of spoken and written
List some aspects of comparison in genre analysis.
How do formal genres differ from informal genres?
List the four main purposes of conversation.
What characterises conversations?
List some elements of conversation and give an
example for each.
List and explain Grice's (1975) four maxims.