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The Discourse Structure of Texts

• Mitchell (1957)

• How people organize what they say

Cultural ways of speaking and writing
• Etnography of communication
• Ways of saying things in different cultures
Discourse as the social construction of
• Texts as communicative units embedded in
social and cultural practices
• Discourse is shaped by language
• Analysis of the BBC Panorama interview with
Princess Diana (1995)
Discourse and socially situated
• We use more than just language to display
who we are (clothing, gestures, act/interact)
• Discourses involve the socially situated
identities that we enact and recognize in the
different settings that we interact in.
• Ways of acting performativity (e.g. “I
promise” “I now pronounce you man and
Discourse and intertextuality
• All texts more or less implicitly cite other texts
• Umberto Eco (1987) analysis of Casablanca
• A movie that, due to a low budget, mixed
many genres (adventure, gangster,
Spoken vs Written discourse
• Speech is not less highly organized than
writing (Halliday, 1989)
• Grammatical intricacy: the relationship
between clauses in spoken discourse can have
more complex relations between them than in
Lexical density in spoken and written
• According to Halliday, written discourse tends to
be more lexically dense than spoken discourse.
• Lexical density: the ratio of content words
(nouns, verbs) to grammatical (prepositions,
articles), or function words, within a clause.
• If Casablanca defined true love for a generation
of incurable romantics, it also defined the
aesthetic possibilities of cinema for a generation
of film lovers.
Explicitness in spoken and written
• Writing is believed to be more explicit than speech

• Yvonne: Will I see you tonight?

• Rick: I never make plans that far ahead

• Yes/no question
• NO yes/no answer
• She detects the meaning from the situational context,
the background nowledge and the textual context
The spontaneous nature of spoken
• Spoken discourse is organized differently from
written discourse.
• Spoken discourse contains half-completed nad
reformulated utterances.
• Spoken discourse is often produced
• In written discourse, ways of convey meaning
are more limited
Repetition, hesitation and redundancy
in spoken discourse
• Speech is produced in real time
• Use of pauses and fillers like “ehh”, “er” and “you
• Princess Diana: very much so (1) er the pressure
on- on both as a couple (.) with the media was
phenomenal (1) and misunderstood by a great
many people (1) we’d be going round Australia
for instance. Hhh (2) and (.) all you could hear
was oh (.) she’s on the other side (1)
To sum up…
• Discourse analysis focuses on knowledge
about language and the world beyond the
word, clause, sentence that is needed for
successful communication.
• It considers what people mean
• Relationships between participants and the
effects discourse has upon social identities
and relations
• In what ways does your use of language
reflect your age, social class, gender,
• Think of rules of communication that people
seem to follow when they are using language
• Think of examples of how people recognize
your socially situated identity through your
use of language. For example, in what ways
does your use of language reflect your age,
social class, gender, ethnic background or
nationality? This might be through your use of
vocabulary, your accent or the things you talk
about and how you talk about them. Try to
think of specific examples of each of these.
• Think of a situation you have been in where
someone has meant more than what they said in
their use of language. For example, you may have
asked someone a favour and not got a direct
answer from them. How would the other person
have expected you to work out their answer to
your request? Or perhaps someone wanted to
complain to you about something but thought it
would not be polite to do this directly. How did
they do this indirectly, yet still feel sure you
would get the point of what they are saying?