Discursive analysis: concept and role in modern linguistics

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Discursive analysis: concept and role in modern linguistics
Discursive analysis: concept and role in modern linguistics

Discursive analysis is sometimes defined as the analysis of language "beyond the sentence". It is a broad term for the study of how language is used between people in written texts and in spoken contexts. "Studying the actual use of language by real speakers in real situations," wrote Théun A. van Dijk in A Handbook of Discourse Analysis.

Early use of the term

This concept came to us from Ancient Greece. In the modern world, the earliest example of discursive analysis comes from the Australian Leo Spitzer. The author used it in his work "The Style of Research" in 1928. The term came into general use after the publication of a series of works by Zellig Harris from 1952. In the late 1930s, he developed a transformational grammar. Such an analysis transformed sentences for translating languages ​​into canonical form.

Zelling Harris


In January 1953, a linguist working for the American BiblicalSociety, James A. Loriot had to find answers to some fundamental errors in the Quechua translation, in the Cuzco region of Peru. After Harris' publications in 1952, he worked on the meaning and placement of each word in the collection of Quechua legends with a native speaker. Loriot was able to formulate a method of discursive analysis that went beyond simple sentence structure. He then applied this process to Shipibo, another language of Eastern Peru. The professor went on to teach theory at the Summer Institute of Linguistics in Norman, Oklahoma.

In Europe

Michel Foucault has become one of the key theorists of the subject. He wrote The Archeology of Knowledge. In this context, the term "discursive analysis" no longer refers to formal linguistic aspects, but to institutionalized models of knowledge that appear in disciplinary structures. They function on the basis of the connection between science and power. Since the 1970s, Foucault's work has been increasingly influential. A wide range of different approaches can be found in modern European social sciences, working with Foucault's definition and his theory of speech acts.

Michel Foucault

Operation principle

Misunderstanding of the transmitted information can lead to certain problems. The ability to "read between the lines", to distinguish between actual messages and fake news, editorials or propaganda, all depend on the ability to interpret communication. Critical analysis of what someone says or writes is of paramount importance. Take a step forward, bring out the discursiveanalysis at the level of the field of study means to make it more formal, to combine linguistics and sociology. Even the fields of psychology, anthropology and philosophy can contribute to this.


Conversation is an enterprise in which one person speaks and another listens. Discourse analysts note that speakers have systems for detecting when one interlocutor's turn ends and the next begins. This exchange of turns or "floors" is signaled by such linguistic means as intonation, pause, and phrasing. Some people wait for a clear pause before they start talking. Others believe that "folding" is an invitation to speak next. When speakers have different assumptions about turn signals, they may inadvertently interrupt or feel interrupted.

The language barrier

Listening can also be understood in different ways. Some people expect frequent nods and listener responses such as "uh-huh", "yeah" and "yes". If this does not happen, the speaker gets the impression that he is not being listened to. But too active feedback will give the feeling that the speaker is being rushed. For some, eye contact is expected almost constantly, for others it should only be intermittent. The listener response type can be changed. If he looks uninterested or bored, slow down or repeat.

Discourse markers

This term defines very short words such as "o","well", "a", "and", "e", etc. They break speech into parts and show the connection between them. "O" prepares the listener for an unexpected or just-remembered point. "But" indicates that the following sentence contradicts the previous one. However, these markers do not necessarily mean what the dictionary specifies. Some people only use "e" to start a new thought, and some people put "but" at the end of their sentences as a way to walk away gracefully. Understanding that these words can function in different ways is important to avoid disappointment that may be experienced.

Questions of linguistics

Speech act

Analysis of a conversation does not ask what form the statement takes, but what it does. The study of speech acts such as compliments allows discourse analysts to ask what counts for them, who gives them to whom, what other function they might serve. For example, linguists note that women are more likely to give compliments and receive them. There are also cultural differences. In India, courtesy requires that if someone compliments one of your items, you offer to give that item as a gift. Therefore, a compliment can be a way to ask for something. An Indian woman who had just met her son's Russian wife was shocked to hear her new daughter-in-law compliment her beautiful saris. She commented, "Which girl did he marry? She wants everything!" Comparing how people in different cultures uselanguage, discourse analysts hope to contribute to improving intercultural understanding.

speech act

Two ways

Discursive analysis is usually defined in two interrelated ways. First, he explores the linguistic phenomena of real communication beyond the sentence level. Secondly, it considers the primary functions of the language, and not its form. These two aspects are emphasized in two different books. Michael Stubbs, in his Discourse Analysis, refers analysis to linguistic pragmatics. John Brown in a similar work tries to learn the language "between the lines". Both books have the same title and were released in 1983.

Discourse and framework

"Reframing" is a way of talking about going back and rethinking the meaning of the first sentence. Frame analysis is a type of discourse that asks what activities are the speakers doing at the moment of their speech? What do they think they are doing by talking like this here and now? These are important linguistic questions. It is very difficult for a person to understand what he hears or reads if he does not know who is speaking or what the general theme is. For example, when someone reads a newspaper, they need to know if they are reading a news item, an editorial, or an advertisement. This will help you interpret the text correctly.

discourse in linguistics


Unlike grammatical analysis, which focuses on a single sentence, discourse analysis focuses on the broad and general use of language within and between specificgroups of people. Grammarists usually construct the examples they parse. Discourse analysis draws on the writings of many others to determine popular usage. He observes the colloquial, cultural and human use of language. Includes all the 'uh', 'uhm', slips of the tongue and awkward pauses. Does not rely on sentence structure, word usage and stylistic choices, which can often include culture but not human factors.


Discursive analysis can be used to study inequality in society. For example, racism, media bias and sexism. He can consider discussions around religious symbols displayed in public places. Translation of languages ​​by this method can help the government. With its help, you can analyze the speeches of world leaders.

In the field of medicine, communication research has explored, for example, how doctors can make sure they are understood by people with limited Russian language skills, or how cancer patients deal with their diagnosis. In the first case, transcriptions of conversations between doctors and patients were analyzed to find out where misunderstandings occurred. In another case, an analysis was made of the conversations of sick women. They were asked about their feelings about their first diagnosis, how it affects their relationships, what is the role of their support in society and how "positive thinking" helped in overcoming the disease.

Searl Aggressive Moment

Speech act theory

This theoryhas to do with how words can be used not only to represent information, but also to carry out actions. It was introduced by the Oxford philosopher J. L. Austin in 1962. Then it was developed by the American philosopher R. J. Searle.

Five Moments of Searl

Over the past three decades, Searle's theory has become an important issue in linguistics. From the point of view of its creator, there are five main points that speakers can achieve in their statements. These are aggressive, sympathetic, directive, declarative and expressive points of view. This typology allowed Searle to improve Austin's classification of performative verbs and move on to a reasoned classification of illocutionary powers of statements.

Searle's sympathetic moment

Criticism of the theory

The speech act theory has influenced the practice of literary criticism in a marked and varied way. Applied to the analysis of direct discourse by a character in a literary work, it provides a systematic, but sometimes cumbersome basis for identifying the unspoken premises, consequences, and consequences of speech. The language community has always taken this into account. The theory is also used as a model on which to remake literature in general, and especially the prose genre.

One of the most important issues that some scholars dispute in Searle's typology concerns the fact that the illocutionary force of a particular speech act cannot take the form of a sentence. It is a grammatical unit in the formal system of the language and is notturns on the communicative function.

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