Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Discourse Analysis and Language Teaching


Outline

  1. Introduction.
  2. Discourse.
  3. Discourse analysis.
  4. Features of discourse analysis:
a.      Reference
b.      Presupposition
c.       Implicature
i.                    Conventional
ii.                  Conversational
d.      Inference
  1. Written and spoken discourse.
  2. Differences between written and spoken discourse.
  3. Top down and bottom up approaches to discourse analysis.
  4. Contribution of discourse analysis to language teaching and learning.
a.      Application of discourse analysis to teaching Grammar
b.      Application of discourse analysis to teaching vocabulary
c.       Application of discourse analysis in second language writing
d.      Application of discourse analysis to teaching text interpretation

  1. Conclusion.

Introduction:

Discourse is an approach of looking at language. Grammarians appear at with grammar as the component of analysis. Discourse analysis is concerned with the relationship between language and the contexts it is used in. It is not a methodology of teaching and knowledge of discourse is not always useful to the language teacher. Though, an awareness of how language is used in relation to context, roles and relationship of speakers, can sometimes be used and be useful in the classroom, especially in getting learners to sound more natural.


Discourse:

“Discourse is a general term used in pragmatics to refer to language that has been produced as the result of an act of communication.” (Maniruzzaman, 2006). In additional terms, discourse locates for a stretch of language with the intention of unity, meaningfulness, and purposefulness. Such as- conversations, interviews, compositions.
To modern science the term 'discourse' has taken various ideas. It occurs sometimes very broad in meanings. Originally the word 'discourse' comes from Latin 'discursus' which denoted 'conversation, speech'. However, discourse refers to too wide an area of human existence. Therefore only discourse from the vantage point of linguistics, and especially applied linguistics is explained here.
There is no conformity in the middle of linguists to the use of the term discourse. In that, some use it in reference to texts. But at the same time others claim it denotes speech which is illustrated by the following definition: "Discourse: A continuous stretch of (especially spoken) language larger than a sentence, often constituting a coherent unit such as a sermon, argument, joke, or narrative" (Crystal 1992:25). On the other hand Dakowska, being aware of differences between kinds of discourses indicates the unity of communicative intentions as a vital element of each of them. Consequently she suggests using terms 'text' and 'discourse' almost interchangeably betokening the former refers to the linguistic product, while the latter implies the entire dynamics of the processes (Dakowska 2001:81). According to Cook (1990:7) novels, as well as short conversations or groans might be equally rightfully named discourses.

Discourse Analysis:

According to Maniruzzaman, 2006, discourse analysis investigates how utterances in spoken language and sentences in written language constitute larger units of language that is meaningful, unified, and purposeful. Discourse analysis concerns many things.
  1. The impact of the selection of grammatical items. Like- verbs, tenses, determiners on the structure of the discourse.
  2. The relationship between utterances or sentences in the discourse.
The moves made by the speaker to introduce a new topic, change of the topic or assert a higher role relationship to the other participants.
Discourse analysis is the examination of language use by members of a speech community. It involves looking at both language form and language functions. It includes the study of both spoken interaction and written texts. It identifies linguistic features that characterize different genres as well as social and cultural factors that aid in our interpretation and understanding of different texts and types of talk.
The study of discourse has developed in a variety of disciplines-sociolinguistics, anthropology, sociology, and social psychology. Thus discourse analysis takes different theoretical perspectives and analytic approaches. Such as- speech act theory, interactional sociolinguistics, and ethnography of communication, pragmatics, conversational analysis, and variation analysis (Schiffrin, 1994). Although each approach emphasizes different aspects of language use, they all view language as social interaction.

Features of Discourse Analysis:

Discourse analysis describes what the speaker and the hearer do than the relationship existing between sentences. According to Maniruzzaman, 2006 there are four discoursal features to consider.
1.      Reference: speaker refers by using some appropriate expression. He invests his expression by the act of referring.  It is noteworthy to say that referring is not an expression but an element that can be used in an expression. That is a reference is an act on the part of the speaker. For example-

A-    My uncle is coming home from Canada on Sunday.
B-     How long has he been away for?
A-    Oh no, they lived in Canada eh he was married to my mother’s sister. Well she’s been dead for a number of years now.
Here in the example ‘he’ is used to refer to ‘my uncle’ and ‘she’ to ‘my mother’s sister’.

2.      Presupposition: it is defined in terms of assumptions. The speaker makes it about what the hearer is likely to accept without challenge. It is a pragmatic idea. It is the common ground of the participants in the conversations. For example-
A-    My uncle is coming home from Canada.
B-     My uncle is not coming home from Canada.
C-     I have an uncle.
Here sentence (B) is unnecessary, while sentence (C) is a presupposition of the speaker in uttering sentence (A). (Maniruzzaman, 2006).

3.      Implicature:  According to Maniruzzaman, 2006, it stands for what a speaker can imply, suggest, or mean as distinct from what the speaker literally says. There are two types of implicature.

  1. Conventional: it is determined by the conventional meaning of the words used.
Such as- He is an Englishman; he is, therefore, brave.

  1. Conversational: it is derived from a general principle plus a number of maxims which speakers will normally obey. It includes conventional implicatures. The general principle is called the ‘co-operative principles’.

4.      Inference: It is a process that is used to arrive at an interpretation for utterances or for the connections between utterances (Maniruzzaman, 2006). For example-

“In the kitchen there was a huge dresser and when anyone went in you see + the hats and coats were all dumped on this dresser.”

Inferences:
  1. The hats and coats belong to the visitor to the house;
  2. The house has the dresser; and
  3. The dresser is in the kitchen.


Written and spoken discourse

Apart from obvious differences between speech and writing like the fact that writing includes some medium which keeps record of the conveyed message while speech involves only air, there are certain dissimilarities that are less apparent. Speech develops in time in that the speaker says with speed that is suitable for him, even if it may not be appropriate for the listener and though a request for repetition is possible, it is difficult to imagine a conversation in which every sentence is to be rephrased. Moreover, talking might be spontaneous which results in mistakes, repetition, sometimes less coherent sentences where even grunts, stutters or pauses might be meaningful. The speaker usually knows the listener, or listeners, or he is at least aware of the fact that he is being listened to, which enables him to adjust the register. As interlocutors are most often in face-to-face encounters (unless using a phone) they take advantage of extralinguistic signals as grimaces, gesticulation, expressions such as 'here', 'now', or 'this' are used. Employment of nonsense vocabulary, slang and contracted forms (we're, you've) is another feature of oral discourse. Among other significant features of speech there are rhythm, intonation, speed of uttering and, what is more important, inability to conceal mistakes made while speaking (Crystal 1995:291, Dakowska 2001:07).

Difference between spoken and written discourse:

Traditionally language teaching has divided discourse into two categories, the spoken and the written. Spoken discourse is often considered to be less planned and orderly, more open to intervention by the receiver. There are some kinds of spoken discourse however like lessons, lectures, interviews, and trials which have significant features in common with typical written discourse.
The traditional division of discourse into spoken and written is clearly and sensibly based on a difference in production and reception: we use our mouths and ears for one, and our hands and eyes for the other. Yet as far as the discourse structure is concerned, a more fundamental distinction seems to be between formal, planned discourse, which may be either written or spoken discourse or informal discourse of either spoken or written.
In particular situations the speech of, say, an academic, particularly if he is saying something he has said or thought about before, may have a great deal in common with written language forms. For the majority of the population, even of a literate country, spoken language will have very less in common with the written language. In the discussion which follows we shall draw a simplistic distinction between spoken and written language which takes highly literate written language as the norm of written language, and the speech of those who have not spent many years exposed to written language as the norm for spoken language. The differences in the manner of production of speech and writing often contribute significantly to characteristic forms in speech. The overall effect is to produce speech which is less richly organized than written language, containing less densely packed information, but containing more interactive markers and planning ‘fillers’. The standard descriptive grammars of English typically describe features of the written language or that form of the spoken language which is highly influenced by written language. We can extract some features:
1.      The syntax of spoken language is typically much less structured than that of written language.
  1. Spoken language contains many incomplete sentences and often sequence of phrases.
  2. Spoken languages typically contain rather little sub ordination.
  3. In conversational speech where sentential syntax can be observed, active declarative forms are normally found. In over 50 hours of recorded conversational speech, Brown, Currie and Kenworthy (1980) found very few examples of passive, it-clefts or wh-clefts.

2.      In written language an extensive set of metalingual markers exist to mark relationships between clauses, in spoken language the largely practically organized chunks are related by, and, but, then, and more rarely, if. The speaker is typically less explicit than the writer: I m so tired (because) I had to walk all the way home. In written language, rhetorical organizers of large stretches of discourse appear, like firstly, more important than and in conclusion. These are rare in spoken language.

3.      In written languages, rather heavily premodified noun phrases are quite common, it is rare in spoken language to find more than two premodifying adjectives and there is a strong tendency to structure the short chunks of speech so that only one predicate is attached to a given referent at a time as in, It’s a biggish cat +tabby +with torn ears.


4.      Whereas written language sentences are generally structured at subject-predicate form, in spoken language ,it is quite common to find what Givon calls topic comment structure as in the cats+ did you let them out.

5.      In chat about the immediate environment, the speaker may rely on gaze direction to supply a referent (looking at the rain) frightful isn’t it.


6.      The speaker may replace or refine expressions as he goes along: this man + this chap she was going out with.

7.      The speaker typically uses a good deal of rather generalized vocabulary: a lot of, got, do, thing, nice, stuff, place, things like that etc.


8.      The speaker frequently repeats the same syntactic structure several times over: I look at the fire extinguisher+ I looked at the fire exit+ I looked at what gangways were available+ I looked at electric cables what+ are they properly earthed+ are they properly covered.

9.      The speaker may produce a large number of fabricated fillers such as, you know, well, sort of,I think, of course, so on.
Some of the typical distinctions between discourse which has been written and that which has been spoken can be seen in the following two descriptions of a Rainbow:-

  1. “And, then in the blowing clouds, she saw a band of fairies iridescence coloring in fain shadows a portion of the hill. And forgetting startled, she looked for the hovering color and saw a rainbow for coming itself. In one phase it gleamed fiercely, and her heart anguished with hope, she sought the shadow of iris where the bow should be. Steadily the color gathered, mysteriously, from nowhere, it took presence upon itself, there was a faint, vast rainbow”.( D.H Lawrence, The Rainbow, chapter 16).

In the first extract, the rich lexis and well organized structure are indications that the writer has taken time in the construction and possibly reconstruction after several rewritings of the final product. There are complete sentences, containing subordinations, and frequent modification via adjectives and adverbs, and more than single predicates per referential expression.

In following extract two, there are frequent pauses, often interrupting major syntactic units, repetitions, incomplete sentences, generalized vocabulary, fillers and one example of a tongue slip.

  1. “Normally after + very heavy rain+ or something like that+ and + you are driving along the road+ and+ far away+ you see well +er + a series of stripes+ formed like a bow+ an arch++ very very far away+ ah+  seven colors but++ I guess+ you hardly ever see seven it’s just a + a series of+ colors which+ they seem to be separate but if you try to look for the separate+ colors they always seem+ very hard+ to separate+ if you see what I mean++ ( Post graduate student speaking informally).


Bottom up and Top down approaches to discourse analysis:
 Based on the different basis of the analysis, the two approaches were differently preceded. While top-down approach viewing genre move as purpose relies on identification of communicative purposes, bottom-up processing concerns content and function. Bottom up approach see language as a whole. Taking the so call lower level elements of language to some extent for granted, it is to be proceeded from the most detailed features of discourse towards the most general. We looked first of all at the relationships of grammar to discourse and the extent to which formal cohesive ties operate across sentence boundaries. With that behind us we moved on to the interaction of language and context which defines language function; to the possibility of establishing overall structures of discourse related to particular discourse types; and to conversational mechanisms. In bottom up approach, lastly we looked at the way in which the form of words is affected by the sender’s knowledge and idea of the receiver’s knowledge. All these levels may be seen as controlled by the relationship of the people involved in the discourse which we may regard as the highest level. The bottom up approach may well be a very fruitful way of trying to understand what language is and how it works, but that does not mean that it is the best way to teach a language or that it is the way we use language when we do know it.
In a top-down approach to discourse analysis, the first step is to develop the analytical framework, determining the set of possible discourse unit types based on an a priori determination of the major communicative functions that discourse units can serve in these texts. That framework is then applied to the analysis of all texts in the corpus. Thus, when texts are segmented into discourse units it is done by identifying a stretch of discourse of a particular type – that is, that serves a particular communicative function. Once these discourse units are identified, they are then analyzed and described for their lexical/grammatical features; complete texts and then the full corpus are then analyzed and described by organizational patterns.
                                                           
Bottom up and Top down approaches to discourse analysis
We can gain some insight into the relationship of the two approaches to discourse processing by considering how difficult English discourse appears to students. As competent users of English, it is not easy for us when looking at a piece of discourse which we understand, to imagine how it appears to them.

Contributions of Discourse Analysis to Language Teaching and Learning

To attain a good command over a foreign language, learners should either be exposed to it in genuine circumstances and with natural frequency, or painstakingly study lexis and syntax assuming that students have some contact with natural input. Classroom discourse seems to be the best way of systematizing the linguistic code that learners are to acquire. The greatest opportunity to store, develop and use the knowledge about the target language is arisen by exposure to authentic discourse in the target language provided by the teacher. Having realized that, discourse analysts attempted to describe the role and importance of language in both contexts simultaneously paying much attention to possible improvement to be made in these fields.

Application of discourse analysis to teaching grammar

There are a number of questions posed by discourse analysts with reference to grammar and grammar teaching. In particular, they are interested in its significance for producing comprehensible communicative products, realization of grammar items in different languages, their frequency of occurrence in speech and writing which is to enable teaching more natural usage of the target language, as well as learners' native tongue.
While it is possible to use a foreign language being unaware or vaguely aware of its grammatical system, educated speakers cannot allow themselves to make even honest mistakes, and the more sophisticated the linguistic output is to be the more thorough knowledge of grammar gains importance. Moreover, it is essential not only for producing discourse, but also for their perception and comprehension, as many texts take advantage of cohesive devices which contribute to the unity of texts, but might disturb their understanding by a speaker who is not aware of their occurrence.
Anaphoric reference, which is frequent in many oral and written texts, deserves attention due to problems that it may cause to learners at various levels. It is especially important at an early stage of learning a foreign language when learners fail to follow overall meaning turning much attention to decoding information in a given clause or sentence. Discourse analysts have analyzed schematically occurring items of texts and how learners from different backgrounds acquire them and later on produce.
The most prominent role in producing sophisticated discourse, and therefore one that requires much attention on the part of teachers and learners is that of words and phrases which signal internal relation of sections of discourse, namely conjunctions. McCarthy (1991) claims that there are more than forty conjunctive words and phrases, which might be difficult to teach. Moreover, when it comes to the spoken form of language, where andbutsothen are most frequent, they may take more than one meaning, which is particularly true for and. Additionally, they not only contribute to the cohesion of the text, but are also used when a participant of a conversation takes his turn to speak to link his utterance to what has been said before (McCarthy 1991:48).
The foregoing notions that words crucial for proper understanding of discourse, apart from their lexical meaning, are also significant for producing natural discourse in many situations support the belief that they should be pondered on by both teachers and students. Furthermore, it is advisable to provide learners with contexts which would exemplify how native users of language take advantage of anaphoric references, ellipses, articles and other grammar related elements of language which, if not crucial, are at least particularly useful for proficient communication (McCarthy 1991:62).

Application of discourse analysis to teaching vocabulary

What is probably most striking to learners of a foreign language is the quantity of vocabulary used daily and the amount of time that they will have to spend memorizing lexical items. Scholars have conducted in-depth research into techniques employed by foreign language learners concerning vocabulary memorization to make it easier for students to improve their management of lexis. The conclusion was drawn that it is most profitable to teach new terminology paying close attention to context and co-text. Discourse analysts describe co-text as the phrases that surround a given word, whereas, context is understood as the place in which the communicative product was formed (McCarthy 1991:64).
From studies conducted by discourse analysts emerged an important idea of lexical chains present in all consistent texts. Such a chain is thought to be a series of related words which, referring to the same thing, contribute to the unity of a communicative product and make its perception relatively easy. Additionally, they provide a semantic context which is useful for understanding, or inferring the meaning of words, notions and sentences. Links of a chain are not usually limited to one sentence, as they may connect pairs of words that are next to one another, as well as stretch to several sentences or a whole text. Since lexical chains are present in every type of discourse it is advisable to familiarize learners with the way they function in, not merely because they are there, but to improve students' perception and production of expressive discourse.
One other significant contribution made by discourse analysts for the use of vocabulary is noticing the omnipresence and miscellaneous manners of expressing modality. Contrary to popular belief that it is conveyed mainly by use of modal verbs it has been proved that in natural discourse it is even more frequently communicated by words and phrases which may not be included in the category of modal verbs, yet, carry modal meaning. Lexical items of modality inform the participant of discourse not only about the attitude of the author to the subject matter in question but they also give information about commitment, assertion, tentativeness (McCarthy 1991:85).
Discourse analysts maintain that knowledge of vocabulary-connected discourse devices supports language learning in diverse manners. Firstly, it ought to bring students to organize new items of vocabulary into groups with common context of use to make them realize how the meaning of a certain word might change with circumstances of its use or co-text. Moreover, it should also improve learners' abilities to choose the appropriate synonym, collocation or hyponym (McCarthy 1991:71).

Application of discourse analysis in second language writing

For those who want to develop their writing skills in another language, discourse can be a primary resource. The writing classroom in English as a second language (ESL) can be organized so that students themselves learn to analyze the written discourse of the society around them and appropriate the results of their analysis for their own writing purposes. In so doing, they can personalize their learning, choosing discourse materials suitable for their own proficiency level and areas of special interest. By introducing specific discourse analysis techniques and tasks, instructors can foster greater independence in their students as they develop the ability to take control of their own language development. A discourse analysis approach also leads to greater writing versatility, as student writers are exposed in a systematic way to a variety of written genres, or types of written discourse. Each genre presents a different set of rhetorical choices—from lexicon and grammar to format, content, and organization—that students can study and adapt to their own writing. Because cultures use genres to accomplish their social interactions, discourse analysis provides a window on the values and priorities of the community that created them. Moreover, the role of discourse analyst offers a more powerful identity for an ESL student than that of foreigner, alien, or nonnative speaker.

Application of discourse analysis to teaching text interpretation

Interpretation of a written text in discourse studies might be defined as the act of grasping the meaning that the communicative product is to convey. It is important to emphasize that clear understanding of writing is reliant on not only what the author put in it, but also on what a reader brings to this process. McCarthy (1991) points out that reading is an exacting action which involves recipient's knowledge of the world, experience, ability to infer possible aims of discourse and evaluate the reception of the text.
Painstaking research into schemata theory made it apparent that mere knowledge of the world is not always sufficient for successful discourse processing. Consequently, scholars dealing with text analysis redefined the concept of schemata dividing it into two: content and formal schemata. Content, as it refers to shared knowledge of the subject matter, and formal, because it denotes the knowledge of the structure and organization of a text. In order to aid students to develop necessary reading and comprehension skills attention has to be paid to aspects concerning the whole system of a text, as well as crucial grammar structures and lexical items.

Conclusion:

In sum, teachers can use discourse analysis not only as a research method for investigating their own teaching practices but also as a tool for studying interactions among language learners. Learners can benefit from using discourse analysis to explore what language is and how it is used to achieve communicative goals in different contexts. Thus discourse analysis can help to create a second language learning environment that more accurately reflects how language is used and encourages learners toward their goal of proficiency in another language.

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