Academic journal article International Journal of Communication Research

Discourse Markers: Contextual Indices of Communication

Academic journal article International Journal of Communication Research

Discourse Markers: Contextual Indices of Communication

Article excerpt


1.1. Discourse Analysis: Tentative Definitions

Discourse analysis is concerned with the study of the relationship between language and the contexts in which it is used. "It grew out of work in different disciplines in the 1960s and early 1970s, including linguistics, semiotics, psychology, anthropology and sociology. Discourse analysts study language in use: written texts of all kinds, and spoken data, from conversation to highly institutionalized forms of talk"2.

Historically, the term has meant several things: a coherent and reasoned treatment of a subject or merely an extended treatment of a subject (though not necessarily rational), and conversation. In modern linguistics, the term has come to mean any utterance larger than the sentence; in this sense it may or may not comprise the full text in a given situation. Generally, discourse refers to the full text of an oral or written situation; it does not denote necessarily a rational or logically coherent content; the discourse can be directed to any aim of language or refer to any kind or reality; it can be a poem, a conversation, a tragedy, a joke, a seminar discussion, a full-length history, a periodical article, an interview, a sermon, a TV ad.

A theory of discourse will then comprise an intelligible framework of different types of discourse with a treatment of the nature of each type, the organizational structure of this type, and the stylistic characteristics of such a discourse.

Discourse, therefore, is characterized by individuals acting in a special time and place; it has a beginning, middle, a closure, and a purpose; it is a language process, not a system, and it has an undivided and absolute integrity; it establishes a verbal context and it has a situational and a cultural context.

1.1.1. Foundation for the Structure of Communie ation

The foundations must be grounded in the very nature of the language process itself. "No imported metaphysic of structure would seem as applicable as the nature of the language act. Thus, one sound foundation for the discipline would be the so-called communication triangle, i.e., the interrelationship of expressor, receptor, and language signs as referring to reality."3

Aristotle made these factors the basis for his study of rhetoric. Because of Aristotle's influence, this structure has dominated rhetorical theory for twenty-three centuries. But many other disciplines now look upon this structure as basic: literary theory and criticism, the theory of signs, semantics and pragmatics; communicationists generally have adopted it as central to their discipline, propaganda analysts follow the basic formulation: "Who says what to whom and why?" Katz and Fodor made it central to their theories of syntax, semantics and discourse analysis.

The structure is often represented in a triangle:

These meaningful or interpreted signals can be used by the encoder and the decoder in actual speech situations. The study of the use of these interpreted signals by encoders and decoders is called pragmatics whose sub-field Discourse Analysis is.

1.1.2. The Modes of Discourse

The second application of communication triangle to the field of discourse is that of the meaning of the discourse as reference to reality. In other words, classifications of kinds of realities referred to by full texts constitute the modes of discourse.

The kind of reality to which a discourse refers answers a question like "what is this text about?" The answer to this question could be given by categorizing the subject matter into one of the academic disciplines: "it is about physics, or ethics, or linguistics etc". Such categories would not help a theory of discourse, for the problems of physics are the concerns of physicists. More relevant to the domain of discourse would be an answer to the question of what a thing is about, like the following: "It's a story about the general's wife"; or, "It's a study of the kinds of mental abnormalities", etc. …

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