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What Is Discourse Analysis?

Discourse analysis is concerned with the study of the relationship between language and the
contexts in which it is used. It grew out of work in different disciplines in the 1960s and early
1970s. Discourse analysts study language in use: written texts of all kinds, and spoken data,
from conversation to highly institutionalized forms of talk
the examination of language use by members of a speech community. It involves looking at
both language form and language function and includes the study of both spoken interaction
and written texts. It identifies linguistic features that characterize different genres as well as
social and cultural factors that aid in our interpretation and understanding of different texts and
types of talk. A discourse analysis of written texts might include a study of topic development
and cohesion across the sentences, while an analysis of spoken language might focus on these
aspects plus turn-taking practices, opening and closing sequences of social encounters, or
narrative structure. The study of discourse has developed in a variety of disciplines—
sociolinguistics, anthropology, sociology, and social psychology. Thus discourse analysis takes
different theoretical perspectives and analytic approaches: speech act theory, interactional
sociolinguistics, ethnography of communication, pragmatics, conversation analysis, and
variation analysis (Schiffrin, 1994). Although each approach emphasizes different aspects of
language use, they all view language as social interaction.
Application of discourse analysis to second language teaching and learning.
Examples of how teachers can improve their teaching practices by investigating actual language
use both in and out of the classroom, and how students can learn language through exposure to
different types of discourse.
Step 1: Videotape a complete lesson
Step 2: Watch the videotape
Step 3: Transcribe the lesson
Step 4: Analyze the videotape and transcript. Why did you ask each question? What type of
question was it? Was the question effective in terms of your goals for teaching and learning?
What effect did your questions have on the students’ opportunities to practice the target
language? How did the students respond to different types of questions? Were you satisfied
with their responses? Which questions elicited the most discussion from the students? Did the
students ask any questions? Focusing on actual classroom interaction, teachers can investigate
how one aspect of their teaching style affects students’ opportunities for speaking the target
language. They can then make changes that will allow students more practice with a wider
variety of discourse types.
Focusing on actual classroom interaction, teachers can investigate how one aspect of their
teaching style affects students’ opportunities for speaking the target language. They can then
make changes that will allow students more practice with a wider variety of discourse types.
Discourse analysis can be an integral part of a program of professional development for all
teachers that includes classroom-based research, with the overall aim of improving teaching
(Johnson, 1995).
Language learners face the monumental task of acquiring not only new vocabulary, syntactic
patterns, and phonology, but also discourse competence, sociolinguistic competence,
strategic competence, and interactional competence. They need opportunities to investigate the
systematicity of language at all linguistic levels, especially at the highest level (Riggenbach,
1999; Young and He, 1998). Without knowledge of and experience with the discourse and
sociocultural patterns of the target language, second language learners are likely to rely on the
strategies and expectations acquired as part of their first language development, which may be
inappropriate for the second language setting and may lead to
communication difficulties and misunderstandings.
Riggenbach (1999) - By exploring natural language use in authentic environments, learners gain
a greater appreciation and understanding of the discourse patterns associated with a given
genre or speech event as well as the sociolinguistic factors that contribute to linguistic variation
across settings and contexts.
One discourse feature that is easy to study is listener response behavior, also known as
backchannels. Backchannels are the brief verbal responses that a listener uses while an-
other individual is talking, such as mm-hmm, ok, yeah, and oh wow. Listener response can also
be non-verbal, for instance head nods. Research has identified variation among languages
in the use of backchannels, which makes it an interesting feature to study. Variation has been
found not only in the frequency of backchannels, but also in the type of backchannels, their
placement in the ongoing talk, and their interpretation by the participants (Clancy, Thompson,
Suzuki, & Tao, 1996). Students can participate in the Record-View-Transcribe-Analyze
technique to study the linguistic form and function of backchannels in conversation.
Steps 1 and 2: Students watch a couple of natives engaged in conversation. They pay attention
for the backchanneling behaviour of the participants. Is there variation in backchannel?
Step Three: Transcribe the conversation so that students can count the number and types of
backchannel tokens and examine their placement within the discourse.
Step Four: Have students analyze specific discourse features individually, in pairs, or in small
groups. Some questions to consider: How often do the participants use a backchannel token?
How does backchanneling contribute to the participants’ understanding?

Students can collect and analyze data themselves. Once collected, this set of authentic
language data can be repeatedly examined for other conversational features, then later
compared to discourse features found in other speech events. This discourse approach to
language learning removes language from the confines of textbooks and makes it tangible,
so that students can explore language as interaction rather than as grammatical units. Teachers
can also use these activeties to raise students’ awareness of language variation, dia-
lect differences, and cultural diversity.
In sum, teachers can use discourse analysis not only as a research method for investigating
their own teaching practices but also as a tool for studying interactions among language
learners. Learners can benefit from using discourse analysis to explore what language is and
how it is used to achieve communicative goals in different contexts. Thus discourse analysis
can help to create a second language learning environment that more accurately reflects how
language is used and encourages learners toward their goal of proficiency in another language.
Celce-Murcia, M., & Olshtain, E. (2000). Discourse and context in language teaching. New
York: Cambridge University Press.
Clancy, P., Thompson, S., Suzuki, R., & Tao, H. (1996) The conversational use of reactive
tokens in English, Japanese, and Mandarin. Journal of Pragmatics, 26, 355-387.
Hatch, E. (1992). Discourse and language education. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Johnson, K. (1995). Understanding communication in second language classrooms. New York:
Cambridge University Press.
McCarthy, M. (1992). Discourse analysis for language teachers. New York: Cambridge
University Press.
McCarthy, M., & Carter, R. (1994). Language as discourse: Perspectives for language
teachers. New York: Longman.
Riggenbach, H. (1999). Discourse analysis in the language classroom: Volume 1. The spoken
language. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Schiffrin, D. (1994). Approaches to discourse. Oxford: Blackwell.
Young, R., & He, A. (1998). Talking and testing: Discourse approaches to the assessment of
oral proficiency. Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Cohesion is the grammatical and lexical relationship within a text or sentence. Cohesion can be
defined as the links that hold a text together and give it meaning. It is related to the broader
concept of coherence
There are two main types of cohesion:
1. Grammatical, referring to the structural content (reference, ellipsis, substitution, and
conjunction- in part)
2. Lexical, referring to the language content of the piece (lexical cohesion and conjunction
- in part)
A cohesive text is created in many different ways. In Cohesion in English, M.A.K. Halliday and
Ruqaiya Hasan identify five general categories of cohesive devices that create coherence in
texts: reference, ellipsis, substitution, lexical cohesion, and conjunction.
There are three referential devices that can create cohesion:
* Anaphoric reference occurs when the writer refers back to someone or something that has
been previously identified, to avoid repetition. Some examples: replacing "the taxi driver" with
the pronoun "he" or "two girls" with "they". Another example can be found in formulas such as
"as stated previously" or "the aforementioned".
* Cataphoric reference is the opposite of anaphora: a reference forward as opposed to
backward in the discourse. Something is introduced in the abstract before it is identified. For
example: "Here he comes, our award-winning host... it's John Doe!" Cataphoric references can
also be found in written text, for example "see page 10".
* Exophoric reference is used to describe generics or abstracts without ever identifying them
(in contrast to anaphora and cataphora, which do identify the entity and thus are forms of
endophora): e.g. rather than introduce a concept, the writer refers to it by a generic word such
as "everything". The prefix "exo" means "outside", and the persons or events referred to in this
manner will never be identified by the writer.
Ellipsis is another cohesive device. It happens when, after a more specific mention, words are
omitted when the phrase needs to be repeated.
A simple conversational example:
* (A) Where are you going?
* (B) To town.
The full form of B's reply would be: "I am going to town".
A simple written example: The younger child was very outgoing, the older much more reserved.
The omitted words from the second clause are "child" and "was".
A word is not omitted, as in ellipsis, but is substituted for another, more general word. For
example, "Which ice-cream would you like?" – "I would like the pink one" where "one" is used
instead of repeating "ice-cream." This works in a similar way to pronouns, which replace the
noun. For example, 'Ice-cream' is a noun, and its pronoun could be 'It'. 'I dropped the ice-cream
because it was dirty'. – Replacing the noun for a pronoun. "I dropped the green ice-cream. It
was the only one I had'. – the second sentence contains the pronoun (It), and the substitution
(one). One should not mix up the two because they both serve different purposes: one to link
back and one to replace.
Lexical cohesion
Lexical cohesion is basically created by repeating (reiterating) the same lexeme, or general
nouns (super-ordinates, for example – public transport), or other lexemes sharing the majority of
semantic features (also called hyponyms): The bus ... – the subway... – the tram....

Lexical cohesion can form relational patterns in text in a way that links sentences to create an
overall feature of coherence with the audience, sometimes overlapping with other cohesion
features. Understanding how the content of sentences is linked helps to identify the central
information in texts by means of a possible summary. This allows judgements on what the text
is about.
Conjunction sets up a relationship between two clauses. Examples include then, however, in
fact, and consequently. Conjunctions can also be implicit and can be deduced by the
interpretation of the text. The aim of conjunction is to create a logically articulated discourse.
The most cohesive conjunctions are therefore and so, while the least cohesive one is and.
Grammatical cohesion
In linguistics, grammar refers to the logical and structural rules that govern the composition of
clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of
such rules, and this field includes morphology and syntax, often complemented by phonetics,
phonology, semantics, and pragmatics.
Coherence in linguistics is what makes a text semantically meaningful. It is especially dealt with
in text linguistics. Coherence is achieved through syntactical features such as the use of deictic,
anaphoric and cataphoric elements or a logical tense structure, as well as presuppositions and
implications connected to general world knowledge. The purely linguistic elements that make a
text coherent are subsumed under the term cohesion.
However, those text-based features which provide cohesion in a text do not necessarily help
achieve coherence, that is, they do not always contribute to the meaningfulness of a text, be it
written or spoken. It has been stated that a text coheres only if the world around is also
Robert De Beaugrande and Wolfgang U. Dressler define coherence as a “continuity of senses”
and “the mutual access and relevance within a configuration of concepts and relations”. Thereby
a textual world is created that does not have to comply to the real world. But within this textual
world the arguments also have to be connected logically so that the reader/hearer can produce
"Continuity of senses" implies a link between cohesion and the theory of Schemata initially
proposed by Bartlett in 1932 which creates further implications for the notion of a "text".
Schemata, subsequently distinguished into Formal and Content Schemata (in the field of
TESOL by Carrell & Eisterhold in 1983) are the ways in which the world is organized in our
minds. In other words, they are mental frameworks for the organization of information about the
world. It can thus be assumed that a text is not always one due to the fact that the existence of
coherence is not always a given. On the contrary, coherence is relevant because of its
dependence upon each individual's content and formal schemata.

Basic bibliography
Brown, G. and Yule, G. (1983) Discourse Analysis. Cambridge: CUP.
Coulthard, M. (2nd.ed.) (1985) An Introduction to Discourse Analysis. London: Longman.
Christie, F. (2002) Classroom Discourse Analysis. A Functional Perspective. Continuum Press.
Ellis, R. (1984) Classroom Second Language Development. Oxford: Pergamon Press
Hatch, E. (1992) Discourse and Language Education. Cambridge: C.U.P.
Hoey, M. (ed.) (1993) Data, Description, Discourse. London: Harper Collins.
McCarthy, M. (1991) Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers. Cambridge: CUP
McCarthy, M. & Carter, R. (1994) Language as Discourse. London: Longman.
Stubbs, M. (1983) Discourse Analysis. Oxford: Blackwell.