Modes of Discourse: The Local Structure of Texts

By Carlota S. Smith | Go to book overview

2 Introduction to the Discourse
Modes

People intuitively recognize passages of the Discourse Modes, although they are probably unaware of the linguistic basis for the differences between them. Each mode – Narrative, Description, Report, Information, Argument – introduces certain entities into the universe of discourse, with a related principle of discourse progression. The features have linguistic correlates of a temporal nature. In fact temporality in the larger sense is the key to the discourse modes. Temporal factors are woven into the fabric of a language and are part of our tacit knowledge of language structure.

I use the term "passage" for text segments that realize a discourse mode. Passages must be long enough to establish the linguistic features that determine a mode. Two sentences suffice to do this. Intuitions are particularly strong when there is a shift of mode. As an example, consider (1), the beginning of an article from the National Geographic. The discourse mode shifts twice: from Information to Narrative and back to Information. The title and paragraphing follow the original.

(1) Listening to Humpbacks

1 When a big whale dives, currents set in motion by the passage of so many
tons of flesh come eddying back up in a column that smooths the restless
surface of the sea. 2 Naturalists call this lingering spool of glassy water the
whale's footprint. 3 Out between the Hawaiian islands of Maui and Lanai,
Jim Darling nosed his small boat into a fresh swirl. 4 The whale that had left
it was visible 40 feet below, suspended head down in pure blueness with its
15-foot-long arms, or flippers, flared out to either side like wings. 5 "That's
the posture humpbacks most often assume when they sing," Darling said. 6 A
hydrophone dangling under the boat picked up the animal's voice and fed it
into a tape recorder…

7 With the notes building into phrases and the phrases into repeated themes,
the song may be the longest – up to 30 minutes – and the most complex in the
animal kingdom. 8 All the humpbacks in a given region sing the same song,
which is constantly evolving.

-22-

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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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