Chapter 7 Discourse analysis Warming up Try to simplify this

Chapter 7
Discourse analysis
Warming up
Try to simplify this passage. Tell how you did this and why.
[] Doctor, my sister married the man my sister was engaged to. The man
my sister was engaged to was ill at the time, and my sister married the man
my sister was engaged to so that my sister might tend and comfort the man
my sister was engaged to in our cottage. My sister had not been married
many weeks when that man’s younger brother saw my sister and was
struck by my sister’s beauty. Then with that man’s permission and even with
that man’s help, that man’s younger brother seized my sister and took my
sister away. I saw that man’s younger brother and my sister pass me on the
road. When I told our father about this, our father’s heart burst. Then, last
night I followed that man’s younger brother here, and climbed in, sword in
hand.(140 words)
7.1 Discourse and discourse analysis
In everyday life, we often produce several sentences at a time, which form a larger
coherent whole. In an interview from the manager of a company, you may reply like
this:“I will be happy to attend for an interview on Monday next at 10 a.m. I will
bring with me the full details of my testimonials as you suggest…” these are usually
called discourse.
• Discourse is “language above the sentence or above the clause”
(Stubbs, 1983: 1). 1960s grammarians became convinced of the
usefulness of considering stretches longer than individual sentences
in their analyses, at least two terms came to be used in parallel
fashion: text linguistics and discourse analysis.
• Originally, some people preferred to use text to refer to written
language and kept discourse strictly for oral production.
• In this chapter, we do not make any distinctions between text
linguistics and discourse analysis, and between discourse and text,
because they are now often used interchangeably.
Compare the two passages to see which one is
meaningful. Why?
• a. Pick up a handful of soil in your garden.
Ordinary, unexciting earth. Yet it is one of
Nature’s miracles, and one of her most complex
products. Your success as a gardener will largely
depend upon its condition, so take the first bold
step in gardening—get to know your soil. (text)
• b. Fertilizers put back what the rain and plants
take away. Plastic pots are not just substitutes for
clay ones. Pears are a little more temperamental
than apples. Supporting and training are not quite
the same thing. (nontext)
Discourse analysis (DA), or discourse studies, is a general term for a
number of approaches to analyzing written, vocal, or sign language use
or any significant semiotic event.
Discourse analysis is also called discourse linguistics and discourse
studies, or text analysis.pragmatics is more concerned with meaning,
discourse is more concerned with the formal and information structure.
Discourse analysis is the study of how sentences in spoken and written
language form larger meaningful units such as paragraphs,
conversations, interviews, etc.
tasks in discourse analysis is to explore the linguistic features which
characterize discourses.
The goal of discourse analysis is to examine how the reader or user of a
discourse recognizes that the words/phrases/sentences in a discourse
must be co-interpreted—that parts of a discourse are dependent on
One of the most important features of discourse is that they have
cohesion. Besides, some other topics of discourse analysis include
information structure, coherence, discourse markers, conversational
7.2 Information structure
(2) Alice: Who ate the bread?
Tom: Mary ate the bread.
Given information is the information that the addressor believes is known to the
addressee.New information is the information that the addressor believes is not
known to the addressee. Given information is often coded in condensed form.
(3) A man called while you were on your break. He said he’d call back later.
(4) Kent returned my car last night after borrowing it for the day. One of the wheels was
about to fall off and the dashboard was missing.
Noun phrases carrying new information usually receive more stress than those
carrying given information, and they are commonly expressed in a more
elaborate fashion.
(5) When I entered the room, there was a tall man with an old-fashioned hat on,
quite elegantly dressed.
In contrast, given information is commonly expressed in more attenuated
ways— ways that are abbreviated or reduced. Typical attenuating devices
include pronouns and unstressed noun phrases. Sometimes given information is
simply left out of a sentence altogether.
(6) A: Who’s at the door?
B: The mailman.
The contrast between given and new information is important in characterizing
the function of some constructions in English and other languages.
I (a
7.2.2 Topic and comment
The topic represents what the utterance is about; the comment is what is said
about it.
Different languages use different procedures to mark the topic of an utterance.
In English, for example, the topic is marked by being placed in the initial position.
It follows that the function of the topic will often be assumed by the grammatical
subject. This is not always the case, however, and other elements in the sentence
can take on the role.
(7) After tea, will you tell me a story?
(8) A beautiful dress she did make.
The given-new distinction depends on the point of view of the listener,
whereas the topic-comment distinction relates to that of the speaker.
The given element is that which the speaker presents as already being known
to the listener, while the topic element is the one the speaker decides to take as
the starting point. So, given information is not always the topic.
(10) Mary ate the bread. As for her little sister, she drank the Coca-Cola.
Similarly, given information can serve as the comment.
(10) Peter didn’t believe anything the charlatan said. As for Mary, she believed
everything he said.
It is difficult to define precisely what a topic is. While the topic is the element of a
sentence that functions as the center of attention, a sentence like (11) uttered to draw
attention to a beautiful sunset, has an unexpressed topic (‘the setting sun’ or ‘the
sky’). Thus the topic is not necessarily a property of the sentence; it may be a
property of the discourse context.
(11) Oh, look!
In fact, the only construction that unequivocally marks topics in English is the relatively
rare as for construction in a sentence like the following:
(12) As for me, I’m gonna go to bed.
In English, marking the topic of a sentence is far less important than marking the subject.
Marking the topic is considerably more important in certain other languages.
Languages such as Japanese and Korean have function words whose sole purpose is to
mark a noun phrase as the topic.
In Chinese, no special function words attach to topic noun phrases, but they are marked
by word order. In these three languages, noun phrases marked in one way or another as
the topic occur very frequently.
Thus, despite the difficulty in defining it, the notion of topic is important and needs to be
distinguished from other categories of information structure.
7.2.3 Contrast
A noun phrase is said to be contrastive when it occurs in opposition to another noun phrase in the discourse.
(13) A: Did Tom see the ghost?
B: No, John did.
(14) A: Did Tom see the ghost?
B: Yes, Tom saw the ghost.
Contrast is also marked in sentences that express the narrowing down of a choice from several candidates to
(15) Of everyone present, only Peter knew what was going on.
(16) Adele knew what was going on, and Peter knew what was going on. (incontrastive)
A simple test exists for contrast: if a noun phrase can be followed by rather than, it is contrastive:
(17) A: Did Tom see the ghost?
B: No, John, rather than Tom, saw the ghost.
A single sentence can have several contrastive noun phrases.
(18) A: Did Tom see a ghost?
B: Yes, Tom saw a ghost, but John saw an entire cast of spirits.
The entity with which a noun phrase is contrasted is understood sometimes from the discourse context
and sometimes from the situational context.
(19) Mary like going to Maine during the winter.
(20) Employee: Can I leave early today?
Manager: I don’t mind.
In English contrastive noun phrase can be marked in various ways. The most common way is by pronouncing the
contrastive noun phrase with nuclear stress or nucleus:
(21) You may be smart, but he’s good-looking.
7.3 Cohesion and coherence
A discourse is a stretch of language that may be longer than one sentence. Thus
discourse analysis is about how sentences combine to form texts.
(22) ①It’s practically impossible to restrain children when they get to grips with
technology. ②Which is why the computer equipment used in schools has to be
designed and built to a standard above and beyond the normal call of duty. ③A
standard that’s set by Research Machines.
② Which is why the computer equipment used in schools has to be designed and
built to a standard above and beyond the normal call of duty. ① It’s practically
impossible to restrain children when they get to grips with technology. ③ A
standard that’s set by Research Machines.
A coherent discourse has certain words and expressions in it which link the sentences
together. Expressions like which is why, and the use of repetition, are known as cohesive
devices: they are like the glue which holds different parts of a discourse together.
Cohesive devices are only one factor in making a discourse coherent, but they are a
good place to start the study of discourse because they are quite easy to identify.
7.3.1 Cohesion
• Cohesion refers to the grammatical and/or lexical
relationships between the different elements of a
discourse. This may be the relationship between
different sentences or between different parts of a
• (24) A: Is Jane here?
B: No, she isn’t.
• (25) You can lead a horse to water but you can’t
make him drink.
• Cohesion actually concerns the question of how
sentences are explicitly linked together in a
discourse by different kinds of overt devices. Such
cohesive devices include reference, substitution,
ellipsis, conjunction, and lexical cohesion. Reference
• pronouns (e.g. it, they, he, she, them, etc.), demonstratives (this, that, these,
those), the article the, and items like such as.
• (26) Respect a man, he will do the more. (anaphoric)
• (27) When I met her, Mary looked ill. (cataphoric)
• (28) (Mary is standing there) I like her. (exophoric)
• The linguistic phenomenon of this kind is called reference, which consists of
two types: one is endophoric reference (endophora), where the interpretive
source lies in the co-text, the other is exophoric reference (exophora), where
the interpretive source lies in the context, e.g. (28). And endophoric
reference can be divided into two subtypes: anaphoric reference (anaphora),
where the referent lies in the prior text, e.g. (26), and cataphoric reference
(cataphora), where the referent lies in the text to come, e.g. (27). Substitution
The process or result of replacing one word by another at a particular position in a
structure is called substitution. The word which refers back to a previously occurring
element of structure may be called a substitute word. There are three types of
substitution, that is, nominal (to replace a noun or noun phrase), verbal (to replace a
verb phrase) and clausal (to replace a clause) substitution.
(i) Nominal substitution
(29) A: I’ve lost my dictionary.
B: Get a new one.
(30) She chose the roast duck; I chose the same.
(ii) Verbal substitution
(31) Some people like a shower after they have played tennis. Peter does for
(32) Did Mary take that letter? She might have (done).
(iii) Clausal substitution
(33) A: He is very clever.
B: I don’t think so.
(34) God send me a friend that may tell me of my faults; if not, an enemy, and
he will. Ellipsis
Another common cohesive device in discourse is to leave out a word or phrase of a
sentence for reasons of economy, emphasis or style, and the omitted parts can only
be recovered by the reader from the previous discourse. Such a phenomenon is
called ellipsis, which is actually a kind of “substitution by zero”. There are three
types of ellipsis, i.e. nominal, verbal and clausal.
(i) Nominal ellipsis
(35) If one word be worth one shekel, silence is worth two (shekels).
(36) The good life is one (life) inspired by love and guided by knowledge. (B. Russell)
(ii) Verbal ellipsis
(37) A: Were you typing?
B: No, I wasn’t (typing).
(38) Reading makes a full man; conference (makes) a ready man; and writing
(makes) an exact man. (Francis Bacon)
(iii) Clausal ellipsis
(39) We can live without our friends, but not (=we cannot live) without our
(40) A: John’s coming to dinner.
B: When? (= When is he coming to dinner?) Conjunction
• Conjunction refers to an item or a process whose primary function is to
connect words or other constructions.
• I was not invited. Otherwise, I would have been there.
• The conjunction helps us interpret the relation between the clauses. The
conventional subclassification of these connective items distinguishes
coordinating conjunctions (e.g. and, or, but) and subordinating conjunctions
(e.g. because, when, unless)—also referred to as coordinators and
subordinators respectively.
• Certain types of adverbial are also referred to as conjunctive adverbs, or
simply as conjuncts (however, moreover, indeed, nevertheless, and therefore).
• (41) If you do good, good will be done to you; but if you do evil, the same
will be measured back to you.
• (42) I think, therefore I am. (我思故我在) (R. Descartes) Lexical cohesion
The donkey died; the poor creature has worked hard all his life.
(i) Repetition
(43) There was a cat on the table. The cat was smiling.
(44) No one can be perfectly free till all are free; no one can be perfectly moral till all
are moral; no one can be perfectly happy till all are happy.
(ii) Synonym
(45) He got a lot of presents from his friends and family. All the gifts were wrapped
in colored paper.
(46) The meeting commenced at six thirty. But from the moment it began, it was
clear that all was not well.
(iii) Superordinate
(47) Yesterday, a pigeon carried the first message from Pinhurst to Silbury. The bird
covered the distance in three minutes.
(48) Brazil, with her two-crop economy, was even more severely hit by the
Depression than other Latin American states and the country was on the verge of
complete collapse.
7.3.2 Coherence
Analysis of the cohesive devices above within a discourse gives us some insight into
how writers or speakers construct what they want to say, and they may be crucial
factors in our judgments on whether something is well organized or not.
However, by itself, cohesion would not be sufficient to enable us to make sense of
what we read or hear. It is quite easy to create a highly cohesive discourse which has
a lot of connections between the sentences, but which remains difficult to interpret.
(49) My father bought a Lincoln convertible. The car driven by the police was
red. That color doesn’t suit her. She consists of three letters. However, a letter
isn’t as fast as a telephone call.
The “connectedness” which we experience in our interpretation of normal
discourses is not simply based on connections between the words. There must be
some other factor which leads us to distinguish connected discourses which
make sense from those which do not. This factor is usually described as
The key to the concept of coherence is not something which exists in the language, but
something which exists in people. It is people who “make sense” of what they read and
hear. They try to arrive at an interpretation which is in line with their experience of
the way the world is.
(50) Student: I’ve lost my bunch of keys!
Roommate: It’s a fine day today.
Student: So you’ve got a free dinner.
Our ability to make sense of what we read or hear is probably only a small part of that
general ability we have to make sense of what we perceive or experience in the world.
Not all relations among the various parts of a discourse are explicitly marked with the
kinds of cohesive devices.
Still, as speakers of a language and as members of a discourse community and culture,
we have built up expectations and background knowledge that we can rely on to
understand our interlocutor even if he does not state everything overtly and explicitly.
In other words, coherence refers to the relationships which link the meanings of
utterances in a discourse.
(51) A: Could you give me a lift home?
B: Sorry, I’m visiting my sister.
There is no grammatical or lexical link between A’s question and B’s reply but the
exchange has coherence because both A and B know that B’s sister lives in the opposite
direction to A’s home, viz. the link is based on A’s and B’s shared knowledge.
7.4 Discourse markers
Discourse markers (DM) refer to the expressions that are commonly used in the initial position of an
utterance and are syntactically detachable from a sentence. These expressions comprise a subset of
linguistic expressions though not to affect the propositional content of utterances in which they occur.
Research on discourse markers is not only done in pragmatics and discourse analysis but also in studies
of language acquisition and language pedagogy, and in research on sociolinguistic topics ranging from
gender variation to code-switching. It is fairly clear that the category of discourse markers cannot be
described in morpho-syntactic terms; they are rather of a functional-pragmatic nature.
(52) Jack: Does he like opera?
Tom: Oh maybe he is too young.
(53) This library building is impressive. After all, it was designed by Christopher Wren.
The main role of discourse markers is to guide speaker’s interpretations of the
utterances. They thus explicitly mark coherence relations among discourse units,
and/or cue the addressee to the appropriate context (the previous discourse or some
extra-linguistic information) he is to use when interpreting the utterance.
In narratives, it is very common to find discourse markers as part of the discourse’s
temporal strategy of the presentation of new events as occurring later in time than
those already narrated. This relationship is commonly conveyed by then (temporal
sequencer) but also by temporal adverbial phrase (anchorage markers) such as at that
point, after a while, the next day, at ten o’clock, and that morning.
In non-narrative texts, discourse markers have a similar function of bracketing.
A teacher in an English class often says “Okay!”, “Well!” and “Right!” Such things seem to be
meaningless, but they are in fact very important signals, meaning to say “I’ve finished one
thing, and now I’m going to start the next”.
They provide a kind of frame for the lesson so that the students won’t easily get lost. The
framing technique involves the use of five markers (Ok, well, right, now, good) in combination
with strong stress, high falling intonation and an accompanying short pause.
Teachers may vary in the particular word which they favor, but framing almost always occurs
at discourse boundaries.
(54) Teacher: So we get energy from petrol and we get energy from food. Two
kinds of energy. Now then, I want you to take your pen and rub it as hard as
you can on something woolen.
Such markers are similar to those found in conversation. Similar techniques can
also be observed in written discourses such as an academic prose.
(55) We do not yet have such a theory, and we may still be a long way from
having one, but we do know many of the properties that it must have. And we
shall see, in later chapters, that we already know a fair amount about the
predictions a quantum theory of gravity must make.
Now, if you believe that the universe is not arbitrary, but is governed by
definite laws, you ultimately have to combine the partial theories into a
complete unified theory… (Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time)
• Discourse markers seem to clarify a text’s structural relations for the reader.
• Despite any differences in their use in different types of discourse, these
items share a number of formal and textual features.
• (i) They do not belong to the sentence elements proper (subject, verb,
• (ii) They are typically found in utterance initial position or, on the whole, in
transitional locations (beginning and end of units).
• (iii) They do not always have a clear propositional (semantic) meaning or
their propositional meaning is superseded by their discoursal functions.
• (iv) They assume multiple roles in signaling relations (ideational, textual,
interpersonal) between units at different levels.
7.5 Conversational analysis
A conversation can be viewed as a series of speech acts— greetings, inquiries,
comments, congratulations, invitations, requests, refusals, accusations, denials,
promises, and farewells.
To accomplish the work of these speech acts, some organization is essential: we take
turns at speaking, answer questions, mark the beginning and end of a conversation,
and make corrections when they are needed.
The analysis of natural conversation in order to discover what the linguistic
characteristics of conversation are and how conversation is used in ordinary life is
called conversational analysis (CA). It includes the study of how speakers decide
when to speak during a conversation, how the utterances of two or more speakers
are related, and the different functions that conversation is used for.
7.5.1 Adjacency pairs
Adjacency pairs: a sequence of two related utterances by two different speakers. The
second utterance is always a response to the first.
(56) A: You left the light on.
B: It wasn’t me! (the sequence of complaint-denial=is an adjacency pair)
Adjacency pairs have five properties:
(i) Adjacency pairs consist of two utterances, a first part and a second part.
(ii) The two parts are spoken by different speakers.
(iii) The first and second parts belong to specific types, for example, question
and answer, or greeting and greeting.
(iv) The form and content of the second part depends on the type of the first
(v) Given that a speaker has produced a first part, the second part is relevant
and expectable as the next utterance.
Adjacency pairs are of many types:
However, not all first parts immediately receive their second parts.
It often happens that a question-answer (Q-A) sequence will be delayed while
another question-answer sequence intervenes. The sequence will then take the form
of Q1-Q2-A2-A1, with the middle pair (Q2-A2) being called an insertion sequence.
Although there appears to be a question (Q2) in response to a question (Q1), the
assumption is that once the second part (A2) of the insertion sequence is provided,
the second part (A1) of the initial question (Q1) will follow
An insertion sequence is one adjacency pair within another. In principle, the number
of insertion sequences can be infinite, but the limit of human memory does not allow
The delay in acceptance in example (58), created by the insertion sequence, is
one type of indication that not all first parts necessarily receive the kind of
second parts the speaker might anticipate.
Delay in response marks potential unavailability of the immediate expected
Delay represents distance between what is expected and what is provided. It is
always interpreted as meaningful.
7.5.2 Preference structure
Another problem with adjacency pairs is the range of potential second parts.
a) a question
b) by a partial answer
c) by a statement of ignorance
d) by a denial of the relevance of the question
e) by a denial of its presupposition.
(59) A: What does Joe do for a living?
B: a. Do you need to know?
b. Oh, this and that.
c. I’ve no idea.
d. What’s that got to do with it?
e. He doesn’t.
There can be several second parts to one first part, but they are not of equal status.
Basically, a first part that contains a request or an offer is typically made in the expectation
that the second part will be an acceptance.
An acceptance is structurally more likely than a refusal.
This structural likelihood is called preference.
Preference structure divides second parts into preferred and dispreferred.
The preferred is the structurally expected next act and the dispreferred is the structurally
unexpected next act. The preferred second parts are more usual, more normal and less specific.
• (60) A: Have you got a light?
B: Yes.
• (61) A: Have you got a light?
B: No, sorry. I don’t smoke.
• Some other examples are listed in the following
Dispreferred second parts have much in common.
They contain more material than preferred second parts, and represent distance and
lack of connection.
They often have elements of delay such as well, let me see, hehh, and umm, elements
of apology such as sorry in (62), and when relevant, an element of appreciation and
an element of explanation.
(62) A: Could you come to our party tonight?
B: Hehh, well, thanks for the invitation, but I’m afraid I can’t make it this time.
You see I’m running an ad in the newspapers and I have to stay near the phone.
The best way to avoid a dispreferred second part is not to get to the point where
a first part of the pair is uttered.
It must follow, then, that conversations between those who are close friends will
tend to have fewer complex dispreferred second parts than conversations
between those who are still working out their social relationship. The amount of
talk used to fulfill a particular social action in conversation shows clearly the
relative distance between the participants.
7.5.3 Presequences
Conversations are opened in socially recognized ways. Before beginning their first conversation
of the day, for example, conversationalists normally greet each other, as when two office
workers meet in the morning:
(63) Jeff: Mornin’, Stan!
Stan: Hi. How’s it goin’?
Jeff: Oh, can’t complain, I guess. Ready for the meeting this afternoon?
Stan: Well, I don’t have much choice!
Greetings exemplify opening sequences, utterances that ease people into a conversation. They
convey the message “I want to talk to you”.
The opening sequences that are used to set up some specific potential actions are called
presequences. Greetings are usually reserved for acquaintances who have not seen each other
for a while, or as presequences for longer conversations between strangers.
Some situations do not require a greeting, such as,
Excuse me, sir, do you know what time it is?
Thus greetings are not the only type of presequences. The following is a pre-invitation:
(64) A: What are you doing this Sunday?
B: Nothing special. Why?
A: Why don’t you come out with us then?
• The example below is a pre-request:
• (65) A: Are you going out tomorrow?
B: No, not really.
A: Are you using your car then?
B: No. Do you want to borrow it?
A: Yes, if you’re not using it.
• There is an often used presequence to check
the news worthiness of what you are going to
say: “Have you heard that…?” as used in
• Have you heard of the seismic sea wave that
devastated a big part of Southeast Asia?
• Do you know what Smith said yesterday?
7.6 Critical discourse analysis
Critical discourse analysis (CDA) is a perspective which studies the relationship
between discourse events and sociopolitical and cultural factors especially the way
discourse is ideologically influenced by, and can itself influence, power relations in
(CDA is ) Discourse analysis which aims to systematically explore often opaque
relationships of causality and dtermination between (a) discursive practice,
events and texts, and (b) wider social and cultural structures, relations and
processes; to investigate how such practices, events and texts arise our of and
are ideologically shaped by relations of power and struggles over power; and to
explore how the opacity of these relationships between discourse and society is
itself a factor securing power and hegemony. (Fairclough, 1993:135)
Critical discourse analysts seek to reveal how texts are constructed so that
particular (and potentially indoctrinating) perspectives can be expressed
delicately and covertly; because they are covert, they are elusive of direct
challenge, facilitating what Kress calls the “retreat into mystification and
impersonality”. (Batstone 1995:198-199)
The basic assumption is that the relationship between the form and content of
discourse is not arbitrary. There are strong connections between linguistic structure
and social structure, to the extent that linguistic meaning is inseparable from
The Observer, The Sunday Times, and The Sunday Telegraph on 12 December,
1976 reported a sequence of events involving the conference of the National
Union of Students and Sir Keith Joseph, a prominent right-wing member of the
British Conservative opposition party in Parliament.
(66)a. NUS Regrets Fury Over Joseph
b. Student Leaders Condemn Insult to Keith Joseph
c. Students Chiefs ‘Regret’ Attack on Sir Keith
Superficially, these three sentences all seem to say the same thing. Yet they have
different connotations, which are consistent with the political “lines” taken by the
three newspapers, and on close examination, appear ultimately to offer different
analyses of the “reality” they report. The different ways in which the participants
are named are significant: naming conventions are regular in English.
The Observer’s “Joseph” suggests formality and distance; the Sunday Telegraph’s
“Sir” connotes respect while the first name “Keith” suggests intimacy.
The connotations are exactly consistent with the papers’ political characters: the
Observer claims to be liberal and is not likely to be in sympathy with Keith Joseph;
The Sunday Telegraph is a right-wing paper likely to admire such a politician. The
Sunday Times’ “Keith Joseph” seems to be neutral and non-committal.

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