Discourse Analysis

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An Introduction to Applied Linguistics By: Norbert Schmitt Chapter 4: Discourse Analysis

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What is Discourse Analysis? Life is a constant flow of discourse. Consider an ordinary day. It will start with discourse before individuals rush off to go to work or school. If we are aware enough we will realize about the extraordinary range of contexts in which communication is involved.

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Because of its pervasiveness in life, discourse is studied in a number of different disciplines. In the field of applied linguistics, the most relevant is that which has come to be known as ‘discourse analysis’. The discourse analysis studies texts, whether written or spoken, long or short. Discourse analysts work with ‘utterances’, and they focus on the following questions when analyzing texts:

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Who are the participants in the discourse? (writer and reader(s)/speaker(s) and listener(s) What is their relationship? Is it one between equals? What are their goals?

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More specifically, discourse analysts ask: ‘What does this piece of language mean in this context?’ What factor enable us to interpret the text? What do we need to know about the context? What clues are there in the surrounding text which will enable us to apprehend the meaning?

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Discourse Analysis enables applied linguists to analyze and understand real language data. It also enables us to understand better the kinds of discourse that language learners are exposed to outside the classroom. In addition, such analysis can assist language teachers and materials writers to evaluate language course books.

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Speaking and Writing Discourse analysts are just as interested in the analysis of spoken discourse as they are in the analysis of written discourse. One way to approaching differences between speaking and writing is to plot individual text along scales or dimensions. Informal spoken English Formal written English Casual conversation: Cozy chat with a close friend E-mail to a friend Letter to an acquaintance Conversation with manager at work Job interview Public Speech Written academic article

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Approaches to Discourse Analysis The different approaches that have develop since the mid-twentieth century may be classified according to different criteria. The most prominent, according to disciplinary origins are shown below: Sociology Conversational analysis Ethnography Sociolinguistics Interactional Linguistics Variation Theory Philosophy Speech act theory Pragmatics Linguistics Structural-functional (Birmingham School & Systemic Functional Linguistics) Social semiotic (SFL & Critical Discourse Analysis)

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Implications for Pedagogy Discourse Analysts describe and analyse how language is structured in different context of use. When modeling different types of writing, discourse analysis can help teachers to explain the underlying features of the text types associated with those types of writing. Teachers can use insights from discourse analysis to better evaluate their own learners’ performance in classroom tasks. Conversation analysis shows that everyday talk is not as disorganized as it may seem. Discourse analysis provides the descriptive information which pedagogical grammarians and lexicographers require to produce more true-to-life descriptions and guidelines for the use of language.

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