A discourse is behavioral unit. It is a set of utterances which constitute a
recognizable speech event e.g. a conversation, a joke, a sermon, an interview etc.
In its historical and etymological perspective the term is used in different
All this fine talk.
Direct / indirect speech.
In order to narrow down the range of possible meanings, the modern
linguists have given different views or definitions.
Discourse is written as well as spoken: every utterance assuming the a
speaker and a hearer as discourse.
(Benvenisle, 1971: 208-9)
An individualizable group of statements and sometimes as a regulated
practice that counts for a number of statements.
(Foucault, 1972: 80)
The specification with the term is that ‘discourse must be used with its social
purpose’ this is the main specification of discourse.
The brief difference between discourse and text, I think, will facilitate to
better understand the term Discourse.
Difference between Discourse and Text
Discourse Analysis focuses on the structure of naturally spoken language as
found in conversation interviews, commentaries and speeches.
Text analysis focuses on the structure of written language, as found in such
text as essays, notices, road signs and chapters.
Some scholars talk about ‘spoken or written discourse’ other about ‘spoken
or written text’
It means discourse and text can be used almost synonymously. But a
distinction is always there and that in discourse has some social purpose while text
fulfills the function of communication of some meaning only. As suggested by
Michel Stubbs (1983) who treats text and discourse as more or less synonymous.
Hawthorn (1992) says text may be non-interactive where as a discourse is
interactive. Means to say text is non-interactive that’s it only fulfils the function of
conveying some meaning. But discourse is always involved in two ways responses
in some formal or informal conversation and dialogues etc.
Hawthorn (1992) further says ‘discourse is a linguistic communication seen
as a transaction between speaker and hearer. While text is also a linguistics
communication (either spoken or written) seen simply as a message coded in its
auditory or visual medium’
To conclude we can say discourse and text have something in common as
both use the medium of language whether in sign language. Both have some
meaning that they try to convey.
But text has a limited scope as compare with discourse. In other words we
can say discourse is somewhat broad category in the system of language. And text
deals with the written from of language. Discourse has different form as Discourse
of Advertising, Discourse of Racism, Discourse of Medical etc. But text has no
such forms. Discourse can be found with in text. And not vice versa. Text has its
maximum interpretation in its ownself but discourse has a lot of things above the
Discourse analysis is an attempt to discover linguistic regularities in
discourse using grammatical, phonological and semantic criteria e.g. cohesion,
anaphora, inter sentence connectivity etc. It is an effort to interpreter what the
writer or speaker intended to convey with in a sensitive social context.
Father: Is that your coat on the floor again?
Son: yes (goes on reading)
Here in the above example Discourse Analysis says that the answer of the
son is not clear one. It shows the exploitation of ambiguity about father’s
command to pick up his coat. Rather the son deals his father’s command as a
simple content question which can be answered in yes /no.
Discourse Analysis is a process in which the reader and listener’s mind is
working up on the linguistic features of the utterance to grasp the intended
meaning of the writer or speaker.
Even if the utterances or sentences are ungrammatical the Discourse
Analysis makes us grasp the intended meaning.
My natal was in a small town, very close to Riyadh capital of Saudi Arabia.
The distance between my town and Riadh 7 miles exactly. The name of this
Almasani that means in English factories. It takes its name from the people carrer.
In childhood I remember the people live. It was very simple most the people was
The above paragraph is full of grammatical mistakes since by Discourse
Analysis of this text we can grasp mostly what are the informations the writer
wants to communicate.
Discourse concerns with communication so Discourse Analysis gives us the
interpretation of the communicated commodity.
Devices for Discourse Analysis
We use different tools for Discourse Analysis. Some of them are as under:
Cohesion refers to the ties and connections which exist within texts
that link different parts of sentences or larger unit of discourse.
Interpretation of text from some previously expressed idea entity.
He did that there.
Every word has some anaphoric reference with which interpretation could not be
(b) Cataphoric Relation
It means referring forward. It refers the identity what is being expressed and
what is to be expressed.
Here is the 9, O Clock news.
By using these relation and links we can better interpret and
The language users try to come to an interpretation in the scenario of
knowledge of the world they posses. Coherence is not something which exists in
the language but something which exists in people. By using coherence the reader
arums semantic unity the paragraph.
Her: That’s the telephone
Him: I’ am in the both.
We can interpret the above dialogue with the help of conventional action and by
our background knowledge that someone in the bathroom can not attend the
Parallelism means side by side. In some piece of literature some
comparisons or contrasts go side be side with each other. They also help
to interpreter the whole text.
In Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’, good marriages and bad
marriages are compared and contrasted on parallel levels.
(4) Speech Events
Speech events are mainly concerned what people say in different
environment e.g. Debate, interview, discussions, quiz etc are different Speech
Events. Speakers may have different speech roles as friend, strangers, young or old
of equal or unequal status
This background knowledge about the personality and environment give a better
comprehension for better interpretation of discourse.
(5) Background Knowledge
Background knowledge can be very much helpful in interpreting any text.
Schema and script are two terms that comprise the background knowledge.
Schema and script tells us what is actually the real situation and what are the
Schema is conventional knowledge which exists in memory.
Script is essentially a dynamic schema in which conventional action takes place.
The schema of a supermarket holds the knowledge ‘food displayed on
shelves, checkout counters’ etc.
While in script such actions are involved as going to movies, eating in a
Trying not to be out of the office Suzy went into the nearest place, sat
down and ordered a sandwich.
Here in the above example the background knowledge of the situation and
the action can be traced out through the schema and script as:
Schema tells us:
Suzy may be an office girl
The nearest place is some restaurant.
Script tells us:
About the action she performed as:
Firstly, she unlocked the door.
Secondly, she walked to the nearest restaurant.
Thirdly, she opened the door of the restaurant. etc.
Here schema and script tells us what is actually the real situation and what are the
(6). Conversational Interaction
Conversation is an activity where for the most part thw or more people take
turn at speativn: in these tusns at speaking one has to pick up the completion point
to take his turn to speak. This is conversational interaction.
During the discourse we not only taking part in conversation but we are also
analyzing. The discourse simultaneously. So in the conversation turn taking helps
us to successfully complete the discourse.
(7) The co-operation principle
Grice (1975) set Four Maxims which say that in conversational exchanges
the participants are in fact co-operating with each other.
(i). Maxim of Quantity
Make your contribution as informative as is required but not more or less
than is required.
(ii). Maxim of Quality
Don’t say that which you believe to be false or for which you lack evidence.
(iii). Maxim of Relation
(iv). Maxim of Manner
Be clear, brief and orderly.
Carol : Are your coming to the party tonight?
Lara: I’ve got exam tomorrow.
Apparently this exchange have no relevance but by using these Maxims we can
analyze the discourse as:
1. Maxim of Quantity:- information is that Lara has exams
2. Maxim of Quality: She is describing a fact of her exams.
3. Maxim of Relation: It is the reason why she could not come to the party
4. Maxim of Manner: A clear cut refusal.
The following can be the intended meaning:
Tomorrow : Exam
To night : Study, Preparation
Tonight : No party
Intended meaning : Refusal
The analysis of the above statement shows the use of maxims of co-
cooperation in Discourse Analysis.