Modes of Discourse: The Local Structure of Texts

By Carlota S. Smith | Go to book overview

1 The study of discourse

This book studies discourse passages from a linguistic point of view. Discourse is made up of sentences, and through linguistic analysis we have learned a good deal about them. The perspective of linguistics, however, can't be used directly to study an entire discourse. Novels, histories, arguments, and other types of discourse are activities with their own character and conventional structure. Receivers draw on discourse knowledge to construct interpretations.

The first problem for the linguist interested in close study of discourse, then, is to find a fruitful level for analysis. Larger units are organized primarily by convention and expectation. I will work more locally, at the level of the passage. There are intuitive differences between the passages of a discourse. People recognize passages of several kinds, namely Narrative, Description, Report, Information, and Argument. The intuitions are linguistically based: the passages have a particular force and make different contributions to a text. They can be identified by characteristic clusters of linguistic features. I shall say that a passage of text with certain features realizes a particular "Discourse Mode." The Discourse Mode is appropriate for close linguistic analysis, because at this level linguistic forms make a difference. Discourse Modes appear in texts of all types of activity, or genres. I use the terms "discourse" for spoken and written material, "text" for written material.

The Discourse Modes constitute an interesting level of text structure. I analyze them in two ways. I first discuss the differences between text passages of each mode. I then look at passages in terms of subjectivity and surface structure presentation, features that the modes have in common. Much of the analysis is formalized in the framework of Discourse Representation Theory.

Part I of this book discusses the Discourse Modes and lays out the context for the inquiry. Part II presents the linguistic characterization of the modes, emphasizing the differences between them. Part III discusses subjectivity and surface structure presentation across modes. Text passages are thus considered from complementary points of view in the second and third parts of the book. The different analyses are brought together in Part IV.

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Modes of Discourse: The Local Structure of Texts
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • I Discourse Structure 5
  • 1: The Study of Discourse 7
  • 2: Introduction to the Discourse Modes 22
  • 3: Text Representation and Understanding 49
  • II: Linguistic Analysis of the Discourse Modes 65
  • 4: Aspectual Information 67
  • 5: Temporal and Spatial Progression 92
  • 6: Referring Expressions in Discourse 123
  • III: Surface Presentational Factors 153
  • 7: Subjectivity in Texts 155
  • 8: The Contribution of Surface Presentation 185
  • 9: Non-Canonical Structures and Presentation 213
  • IV: Discourse Modes and Their Context 241
  • 10: Information in Text Passages 243
  • 11: Discourse Structure and Discourse Modes 258
  • Appendix A - The Texts 267
  • Appendix B - Glossary 286
  • References 294
  • General Index 314
  • Index of Names 318
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