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1. DEFINITIONS OF DISCOURSE 1.1.

Introduction
In this introductory unit we are going to look at a number of definitions of discourse and to try to define some key terms used in discourse analysis, with the aim of clarifying its scope in such a way that it can deal with a wide range of problems and phenomena, but in a more systematic and coherent way. Discourse analysis refers, in a very basic sense, to talk. What most people do most of the time is talk, because to do anything requires talk and, often, texts, both in private and public spheres. However, until recently, little attention has been given to what people actually say and do in particular everyday circumstances. People talk about the world, about their work, about others and their relations with them. And in talking, they do things. That was Austins (1962) revolutionary insight into an aspect of language that had not been fully recognized: the pragmatic function of language, what language does to make social life possible. This turn to language, or to discourse, has had the effect of breaking down barriers between different social sciences concerned with the analysis of everyday social life.

1.2. Definitions of discourse


Discourse analysis is widely recongnised as one of the most vast and least defined areas of linguistics. One reason for this is that the understanding of discourse is based on scholarship from a number of academic disciplines that are quite different from one another, such as, the philosophy of language, pragmatics, sociolinguistics. In a very general sense, two definitions are prevalent in the field, which underlie two different assumptions about the general nature of language and the goals of linguistics: the so-called structuralist or formalist approach, and the so-called functional approach. The former defines discourse analysis as language above the level of the sentence (Stubbs, 1983, and many others). Those who practise the formalist approach to language analyse discourse to find constituents that have certain relationships with one another and occur in a number of arrangements (the sort of linguistic analysis at the level of phonetics, morphology and syntax).

We may call this type of approach to the analysis of language sentence linguistics, and it will not be included in the scope of our course for reasons to be explained further down. The latter approach defines discourse analysis as language in use, for communication (Cook, 1989). Its view is that analysis of discourse cannot be restricted to the description of linguistic forms independent of the purposes/functions which they are designed to serve. Another definition is that discourse is utterances (D.Schiffrin, 1994). Discourse is seen as above the sentence (larger than other units of language). In other words, the utterance (not the sentence) is considered the smallest unit of which discourse is comprised, meaning that discourse arises as a collection of inherently contextualised units of language use. We are looking at the construction of meaning, i.e we are talking about utterance meaning and speaker meaning (and also about how the hearer interprets the meaning of an utterance). Examples of this view of language are the Speech act approach (based on the philosophy of language), the Ethnography of communication, and pragmatics (the study of meaning in use). The question that such scholars ask is: What gives stretches of language unity and meaning? Lets now look at the differences between sentence linguistics and discourse analysis from the point of view of the types of data they use when analysing language (cf. Cook, 1989). Differences between sentence linguistics data (which applies rules of semantics and grammar) and discourse analysis data: Sentence linguistics data -isolated sentences - grammatically well-formed - without context - invented or idealised Discourse analysis data - any stretch of language felt to be unified - achieving meaning - in context - observed From Cook, 1989:12 Here are, according to Cook (1989) some arguments concentrating on artificially constructed sentences in relation to language teaching and linguistics: They are the best for the study of a foreign language because they isolate it from context

Actual language is degenerate and deviates from the rules of grammar (Chomsky) The treatment of language in terms of sentences has been successful in revealing how language works (by giving examples of grammatically correct, but somehow peculiar sentences such as: Sincereity may frighten the boy Chomsky, 1965:63).

Now, here are some arguments for studying language in use, in context, on which the present course relies: It is more to producing and understanding meaningful language (to communicating) than knowing how to make or recongnise correct sentences Being a communicator, having communicative competence (Dell Hymes, 1967) involves more than just being able to construct correct sentences.

1.3. Key terms


In this section you will be given some key terms that are currently being used when dealing with pragmatics and discourse analysis. They will be detailed in further units of the course. Language as action This is a basic assumption about the nature of discourse, assumption which has come to be taken for granted by both social scientists and laypersons. A major source of the view that language in action is Austins (1962) theory of speech acts. Austin pointed out that utterances not only have a certain meaning (i.e. they refer to states, persons, events, etc.), they also have force, that is, they also do things. In other words, language is action. Functions of language As already mentioned above, utterances may be seen to perform certain functions, or acts. Lets look at the following example: Eg.1 SPEAKER: Can you pass the salt? (taken from Schiffrin, 1994:6) The speakers utterance can be understood (functions) as both a question (about the hearers ability to pass the salt) and as a request (for the hearer to pass the salt). This is an example of HERARER: /passes the salt/

how one and the same utterance may have different functions, since the two understandings are largely separable by context (the former associated, for example, with tests of physical ability, the latter with dinner table talk). The speech act theory is the approach to discourse that focuses upon knowledge of the underlying conditions and interpretations of acts through words. Contexts may help separate multiple functions of utterances from one another. Context There are very many definitions of context, but here are some concepts used in the literature: - co-text, or the linguistic context. Consider the following example: Eg. 2 A: Has the post been ? B: I didnt hear the letterbox (Source: Levinson, 1983) We can understand Bs reply only in relation to As question. In order to understand this exchange as meaningful talk, we have to infer that there is some further knowledge, shared by the two participants. Thus, Bs reply becomes meaningful if A knows that whenever the postman arrives and introduces the mail into the letterbox, B can hear the letterbox. Thus, Bs answer may be interpreted by A as No. physical context - the actual setting in which the interaction takes place. Meaningful discourse may also been interpreted as such, depending on the actual place or setting in which it takes place. For instance, we understand the utterance in example 1 above ( Can you pass the salt?) as a request and not as a questions if it takes place at a dinner table and not in a testing laboratory or a medical interview. social context: the social and personal relationships of the interactants with one another.

Consider the following example, in which the two interactants clearly state how the direction of talk is influenced by their social relationships as magistrate and defendant during a court hearing. Eg 3:

Magistrate:

Im putting it to you again - are you going to make an offer uh uh to

discharge this debt? Defendant: Would you in my position? Magistrate: I - Im not here to answer questions - you answer my question (Harris 1984:5) - cognitive context - the background knowledge and shared knowledge held by participants in the interaction . Discourse vs. genre In this course the term discourse is being seen as a process through which a stretch of talk or a piece of writing becomes meaningful. However, scholars may also use the word discourse (also having a plural, in this understanding) seen as a product. In this sense, discourse is defined as characteristics which arise from the content (what is being talked, written about). For example, we may refer to medical discourse, political discourse, etc. Genre, as distinct from discourse/s, is defined as characteristics which arise from the social occasion it is part of. For example, we may refer to interviews, advertisements and jokes, as genres. Text Text is being referred to as the verbal record of a communicative event (Brown and Yule, 1983). In other words, it is any use (stretch) of language that holds together. Texts can be written or spoken (the verbal record, the written transcription of the tape-recording). Instead of a conclusion, we could say that pragmatics and discourse analysis concern a set of methods designed for the close analysis of talk and writing, but also a perspective on the nature of language and its relationship to some central issues that belong to various other disciplines. There are two basic assumptions about discourse: language as action, and the functions of the language.

TASKS Definitions of discourse analysis TASK 1. (Source: Cook, 1989:6) Some of the following are invented examples, for language teaching or grammatical analysis, and some pieces of language which were actually used to communicate. Is there any way of telling which is which? 1. John considers the analyst a lunatic. 2. Which of you people is the fish? 3. Please dont throw me on the floor! 4. I wish someone had told me he is a vegetarian: I could have made an omelet. 5. Chicken and vegetablehotmediumhoter riceer two poppodamus and a whats a bhindi bhaji? TASK 2 (Source: Cook, 1989:10) Here is part of a verbal exchange between two people, which was recorded and then transcribed: A: B: A: Right, (.hhh) whos goin to lift the bottom? Well...come o...someones got to take old of it. I aint goin to. Dont jus...Come on will you?

1. What does the kind of language used tell you about the interactants? 2. What does Dont jus (false start) suggests to you about the person? 3. What do you think the two people are doing? Is it important to know? 4. What does the transcript suggest to you concerning the social relationships between the two?