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English

Discourse is the verbal or written exchange of ideas. Any unit of connected speech or writing that is longer than a sentence and that has a coherent meaning and a clear purpose is referred to as discourse.

An example of discourse is when you discuss something with your friends in person or over a chat platform. Discourse can also be when someone expresses their ideas on a particular subject in a formal and orderly way, either verbally or in writing.

Most of what we know of discourse today is thanks to the French philosopher, writer and literary critic Michel Foucault, who developed and popularised the concept of discourse. You can read about his use of the term in The Archeology of Knowledge and Discourse on Language (1969).

Discourse Image of woman with laptop StudySmarterDiscourse can be verbal or written (Pixabay)

What is the function of discourse?

Discourse has significant importance in human behaviour and the development of human societies. It can refer to any kind of communication.

Spoken discourse is how we interact with each other, as we express and discuss our thoughts and feelings. Think about it - isn't conversation a huge part of our daily lives? Conversations can enrich us, especially when they are polite and civil. Civil discourse is a conversation in which all parties are able to equally share their views without being dominated. Individuals engaged in civil discourse aim to enhance understanding and the social good through frank and honest dialogue. Engaging in such conversations helps us live peacefully in society.

What is more, written discourse (which can consist of novels, poems, diaries, plays, film scripts etc.) provides records of decades-long shared information. How many times have you read a book that gave you an insight into what people did in the past? And how many times have you watched a film which made you feel less alone because it showed you that someone out there feels the same way you do?

'Discourse analysis' is the study of spoken or written language in context and explains how language defines our world and our social relations.

What is Critical Discourse Analysis?

Critical discourse analysis is an interdisciplinary method in the study of discourse that is used to examine language as a social practice. The method is aimed at the form, structure, content and reception of discourse, in both spoken and written forms. Critical discourse analysis explores social relations, social problems, and the ' role of discourse on the production and reproduction of power abuse or domination in communications'.

Teun A. van Dijk offers this definition of CDA in 'Multidisciplinary Critical Discourse Analysis: A plea for diversity.' (2001).

CDA explores the relationship between language and power. Because language both shapes and is shaped by society, CDA offers an explanation of why and how discourse works.

The social context in which discourse occurs influences how participants speak or write.

If you write an email to apply for a job, you would most likely use more formal language, as this is socially acceptable in that situation.

At the same time, the way in which people speak ultimately influences the social context.

If you are meeting your new boss and you have prepared for a formal conversation, but all of your other colleagues are chatting with your boss in a more casual manner, you would do the same as everyone else, in this way changing what is expected.

By examining these social influences, critical discourse analysis explores social structures and issues even further. Critical discourse analysis is problem or issue-oriented: it must successfully study relevant social problems in language and communication, such as racism, sexism, and other social inequalities in conversation. The method allows us to look into the sociopolitical context - power structures and the abuse of power in society. Critical discourse analysis is often used in the study of rhetoric in political discourse, media, education and other forms of speech that deal with the articulation of power.

Linguist Norman Fairclough's (1989, 1995) model for CDA consists of three processes for analysis, tied to three interrelated dimensions of discourse:

  1. The object of analysis (including visual or verbal texts).
  2. The process by which the object was produced and received by people (including writing, speaking, designing and reading, listening, and viewing).
  3. The socio-historical conditions that inform or influence these processes.

Tip: These three dimensions require different types of analysis, such as text analysis (description), processing analysis (interpretation), and social analysis (explanation). Think about when your teacher asks you to analyse a newspaper and determine its author's bias. Is the author's bias related to their social background or their culture?

Simply put, critical discourse analysis studies the underlying ideologies in communication. A multidisciplinary study explores relations of power, dominance, and inequality, and the ways these are reproduced or resisted by social groups via spoken or written communication.

Language is used to establish and reinforce societal power, which individuals or social groups can achieve through discourse (also known as 'rhetorical modes').

What are the four types of discourse?

The four types or modes of discourse are description, narration, exposition and argumentation. We will take a closer look at each one of them!

Description

Description is the first type of discourse. Description helps the audience visualise the item or subject by relying on the five senses. Its purpose is to depict and explain the topic by the way things look, sound, taste, feel, and smell. Description helps readers visualise characters, settings, and actions with nouns and adjectives. Description also establishes mood and atmosphere (think pathetic fallacy in William Shakespeare's Macbeth (1606).

Examples of the descriptive mode of discourse include the descriptive parts of essays and novels. Description is also frequently used in advertisements.

Let's look at this example from the advert for One Bottle by One Movement:

"Beautiful, functional, versatile and sustainable.

At 17 oz / 500ml it's the only bottle you'll ever need, using double-wall stainless steel which will keep your drinks cold for 24 hours or piping hot for 12. It's tough, light and dishwasher safe. "

The advert uses descriptive language to list the qualities of the bottle. The description can affect us; it may even persuade us to buy the bottle by making us visualise exactly what the bottle looks and feels like.

Narration

Narration is the second type of discourse. The aim of narration is to tell a story. A narrator usually gives an account of an event, which usually has a plot. Examples of the narrative mode of discourse are novels, short stories, and plays.

Consider this example from Shakespeare's tragedy Romeo and Juliet (1597):

'' Two households, both alike in dignity,

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;

Whose misadventured piteous overthrows

Do with their death bury their parents' strife. '' ¹

Shakespeare uses a narrative to set the scene and tell the audience what will occur during the course of the play. Although this introduction to the play gives the ending away, it doesn't spoil the experience for the audience. On the contrary, because the narration emphasises emotion, it creates a strong sense of urgency and sparks interest. Hearing or reading this as an audience, we are eager to find out why and how the "pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life".

Exposition

Exposition is the third type of discourse. Exposition is used to convey background information to the audience in a relatively neutral way. In most cases, it doesn't use emotion and it doesn't aim to persuade.

Examples of discourse exposure are definitions and comparative analysis.

What is more, exposure serves as an umbrella term for modes such as:

Exemplification (illustration): The speaker or writer uses examples to illustrate their point.

Michael Jackson is one of the most famous artists in the world. His 1982 album "Thriller" is actually the best-selling album of all time - it has sold more than 120 million copies worldwide.

Cause / Effect: The speaker or writer traces reasons (causes) and outcomes (effects).

I forgot to set my alarm this morning and I was late for work.

Comparison / Contrast: The speaker or writer examines the similarities and the differences between two or more items.

"Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" is shorter than "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows".

Definition: The speaker or writer explains a term, often using examples to emphasise their point.

Rock is a type of popular music originating in the late 1960s and 70s and characterized by a heavy beat and simple melodies. One of the most famous rock songs is "Smoke on the Water" by the English band Deep Purple.

Problem / Solution: The speaker or writer draws attention to a particular issue (or issues) and offers ways in which it can be resolved (solutions).

Climate change is possibly the biggest issue humanity has ever faced. It is a largely man-made problem that can be solved by the creative use of technology.

Argumentation

Argumentation is the fourth type of discourse. The aim of argumentation is to persuade and convince the audience of an idea or a statement. To achieve this, argumentation relies heavily on evidence and logic.

Lectures, essays and public speeches are all examples of the argumentative mode of discourse.

Take a look at this example - an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speech I Have a Dream (1963):

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. (...). This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning: My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims' pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring. And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. " ²

In his speech, Martin Luther King Jr. successfully argued that African Americans should be treated equally to white Americans. He rationalised and validated his claim. By quoting the United States Declaration of Independence (1776), King argued that the country could not live up to the promises of its founders unless all its citizens lived in it freely and possessed the same rights.

What are the three categories of literary discourse?

There are three kinds of discourse in Literature - poetic, expressive, and transactional.

Poetic discourse

Poetic discourse is a type of literary communication in which special intensity is given to a text through distinctive diction (such as rhyme), rhythm, style and imagination. It incorporates different poetic devices to emphasise the poet's expression of feelings, thoughts, ideas or description of events and places. Poetic discourse is most common in poetry but it is also frequently used by writers of prose.

Let's look at this example from the tragedy Macbeth (1606) by William Shakespeare:

'"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, letter candle!

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury

Signifying nothing. " ³

In this soliloquy, Macbeth mourns the death of his wife, Lady Macbeth, and ponders the futility of an unfulfilled life. The use of literary devices and poetic techniques, such as repetition, metaphor and imagery, evokes strong emotions.

Expressive discourse

Expressive discourse refers to literary writing that is creative but not fictional. This writing aims to generate ideas and to reflect the author's emotions, usually without presenting any facts or arguments.

Expressive discourse includes diaries, letters, memoirs, and blog posts.

Consider this example from The Diary of Anaïs Nin (1934-1939):

"I was never one with the world, yet I was to be destroyed with it. I always lived seeing beyond it. I was not in harmony with its explosions and collapse. I had, as an artist, another rhythm, another death, another renewal. That was it. I was not at one with the world, I was seeking to create one by other rules…. The struggle against destruction which I lived out in my intimate relationships had to be transposed and become of use to the whole world . " 4th

In her diaries, Nin reflects on her feelings of being a woman and an artist in the 20th century. She wrote this passage in preparation for leaving France at the start of World War Two. We can read her sense of the disconnection between her intense inner world and the violence of the outer world. This example is a trademark of expressive discourse, as it delves into personal ideas and explores inner thoughts and feelings.

Transactional discourse

Transactional discourse is an instructional approach that is used to encourage action. It presents a non-ambiguous plan that is clear to the reader and is usually written in the active voice. Transactional discourse is common in advertising, instruction manuals, guidelines, privacy policies, and business correspondence.

This excerpt from the novel The Midnight Library (2020) by Matt Haig is an example of transactional discourse:

An instruction manual for a washing machine is an example of transactional discourse:
1. Put washing detergent in the drawer2. Push the power button to switch on the power3. Select the suitable automatic programme4. Select the suitable delay wash programme5. Close the top lid6. Finish washing

This is a clear plan - a list of instructions. Haig uses transactional discourse as part of his work of fiction in order to add realism to the relative part of the story.

Discourse - key takeaways

  • Discourse is another word for any kind of written or spoken communication. It is any unit of connected speech that is longer than a sentence, and that has a coherent meaning and a clear purpose.
  • Discourse is crucial to human behaviour and social progress.
  • Critical discourse analysis is an interdisciplinary method in the study of discourse that is used to examine language as a social practice .
  • There are four types of discourse - Description, Narration, Exposition, and Argumentation .
  • There are three categories of literary discourse - Poetic, Expressive, and Transactional .
  • Discourse appears in Literature (both poetry and prose), speeches, advertisements, diaries, blog posts, definitions and verbal conversations.

SOURCE:

¹ William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 1597

² Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream, 1963

³ William Shakespeare, Macbeth, 1606

4 Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 2, 1934-1939

5 Matt Haig, The Midnight Library, 2020

6 William Wordsworth, A Character, 1800 [flashcards]

7 Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, 1974 [flashcards]

Frequently Asked Questions about Discourse

Discourse means the verbal or written exchange of ideas. Discourse is any unit of connected speech or writing that is longer than a sentence and that has a coherent meaning and a clear purpose.

Critical Discourse Analysis is an interdisciplinary method in the study of discourse that is used to examine language as a social practice. Critical discourse analysis explores wider societal relations, social problems, and the 'role of discourse on the production and reproduction of power abuse or domination in communications.'

The four types (or modes) of discourse are Description, Narration, Exposition and Argumentation.

The three categories of literary discourse are Poetic, Expressive and Transactional.

Civil discourse is communication in which all parties are able to equally share their views. Individuals engaged in this kind of discourse intend to enhance understanding through frank and honest dialogue. Civil discourse is important in a democratic society because democracy is built on the idea that everyone in society has the right to share their views and to be heard.

Final Discourse Quiz

Question

What literary work is this poetic discourse from?

`` Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury

Signifying nothing. ''

Show answer

Answer

The tragedy Macbeth (1606) by William Shakespeare.


Show question

Question

 If a text is used to compel a reader to action, which category of literary discourse would this be?


Show answer

Answer

Transactional discourse

Show question

Question

Which category of literary discourse does this excerpt fall into?

“I marvel how Nature could ever find space

For so many strange contrasts in one human face:

There's thought and no thought, and there's paleness and bloom

And bustle and sluggishness, pleasure and gloom. " (6)

Show answer

Answer

Poetic discourse

Show question

Question

Which type of discourse doesn't aim to persuade?

Show answer

Answer

Exposition

Show question

Question

 If a text is used to generate ideas and to express the author's thoughts, which category of literary discourse would this be?


Show answer

Answer

Expressive discourse

Show question

Question

Which type of discourse relies on the five senses?


Show answer

Answer

Description

Show question

Question

If a text doesn't refer to facts, which category of literary discourse would this be?


Show answer

Answer

Expressive discourse

Show question

Question

Which type of discourse can you spot in these sentencese?


Once upon a time there was a beautiful house by a lake. The house belonged to magical swans who lived there in perfect harmony.

Show answer

Answer

Narration

Show question

Question

Which type of discourse is an umbrella term for other modes, such as definition?


Show answer

Answer

Exposition

Show question

Question

Which modes of discourse can you recognize in this excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech?

'' When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. ''


A. reasoning

B. Exposure

C. Narration

Show answer

Answer

A. Argumentation and C. Narration


Show question

Question

If a text is used to express themes and feelings, which category of literary discourse would this be?


Show answer

Answer

Poetic discourse


Show question

Question

Which category of literary discourse does this excerpt fall into?


'' In the meantime, things are getting more and more wonderful here. I think, Kitty, that true love may be developing in the Annex. All those jokes about marrying Peter if we stayed here long enough weren't so silly after all. Not that I'm thinking of marrying him, mind you. I don't even know what he'll be like when he grows up. Or if we'll even love each other enough to get married. '' (7)

Show answer

Answer

Expressive discourse

Show question

Question

Which type of discourse is mostly chronological?


Show answer

Answer

Narration

Show question

Question

Which types of discourse can you spot in these sentences?

Our story begins with a tall, silver-haired old lady. Every Tuesday she would feed the huge, golden lions in the zoo.


A. Exposition

B. Narration

C. Description

Show answer

Answer

B. Narration and C. Description


Show question

Question

Which type of discourse relies on evidence?


Show answer

Answer

Argumentation

Show question

Question

Finish the definition with the correct phrase.

Critical discourse analysis examines language as….

Show answer

Answer

A social practice


Show question

Question

Who developed and popularised the concept of discourse?

Show answer

Answer

Michael Foucault

Show question

Question

Critical Discourse Analysis explores the relationship between language and _______.

Show answer

Answer

power

Show question

Question

What does CDA stand for?

Show answer

Answer

Critical discourse analysis

Show question

Question

Norman Fairclough's model for critical discourse analysis consists of how many processes?

Show answer

Answer

3

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not a type of discourse?

Show answer

Answer

formation

Show question

Question

Name the four types of discourse.

Show answer

Answer

Description, narration, exposition, argumentation.

Show question

Question

There are three kinds of literary discourse. What are they?

Show answer

Answer

Poetic, expressive, transactional

Show question

Question

Discourse only appears in literature.


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

Critical discourse analysis is _______ -oriented.

Show answer

Answer

problem

Show question

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