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Discourse Analysis

Discourse analysis has emerged as a field of discourse research, responding to the interdisciplinary requirement claimed by the complexity of the subject matter. According to D. Rovenţa-Frumuşani [1], the discourse analysis field is defined by mobility and diversity, ‘a crucible in which recent tendencies converge (the philosophy of language, the theory of enunciation, symbolic interactionism, ethnomethodology, etc.) and century-old practices (rhetorical or philological)’—or socio-normative ones, thinking about the various concepts of the interactive ritual. Thus, discourse analysis provides a heterogeneous epistemological framework for the investigation of the discourse as a signifying system.

In these terms, discourse analysis becomes a viable qualitative method in communication research. Following a period when structuralist theories dominated the search for the meaning of communication, discourse analysis emerged as an interdisciplinary space in which the epistemological paradigms of pragmatics (the new rhetoric, the theory of enunciation, the theory of speech acts) and of sociology (ethnomethodology, ethnography of communication, analysis of conversation, sociolinguistics) cohabit. In her book, Approaches to Discourse [2], Deborah Schiffrin presents six approaches that she considers to be dominant in discourse analysis in order to study ‘the use of language for social, expressive and referential purposes’: the theory of speech acts, pragmatics, ethnomethodology, interactional sociolinguistics, ethnography of communication and variational sociolinguistics.

The trans- and interdisciplinary character of the field is thus updated in theories and concepts that intend to articulate the language with social, psychological and cultural factors in order to produce and decipher its meaning. Despite its heterogeneity, from this perspective, the discourse analysis finds its unity and consistency in the existence of certain common points of the disciplines that contribute to its constitution, namely:

  • Conceptualization of the discourse as a collective construction
  • Intervention of social and cultural norms, which determines roles and relationships of the participants, as well as the content of the messages
  • Social and interactive character of language
  • Dynamics of the enunciation

Linguistic research on discourse channelizes interest towards detecting regularities through which coherence of phrases is achieved therein. Observations about the transphrastic connection at the level of discourse have existed since antiquity. Creating an oration implied the division of the orator’s task into five stages: inventio (searching for ideas and arguments), dispositio (organisation of arguments), elocutio (application of writing/stylistic techniques), actio (application of oral expression techniques) and memoria (application of techniques of recalling the arguments of the oration, intervening either in free or improvised speech) [3]. Thus, classical rhetoric pointed out both the way of linking the demonstrative moments of the speech, hence the semantic connection, as well as the way of linking the linguistic elements, by elocutio, i.e. the explicit interphrastic connection.

The study of the transphrastic connection as a feature of the discourse is addressed in modern linguistics by introducing the conceptual couples’ theme and rheme/topic and comment (in the American discourse analysis) where the significance attributed to the theme reflects the transgression of the sentence and the reference to earlier elements expressed in the discourse. In this respect, an important role is played by the representatives of the Prague school who asserted the unity of the discourse as communicative act, where the information input and, consequently, the progression of the text are mirrored by the relationship between theme and rheme [4, 5].

Zelig Harris’s article Discourse Analysis (1952), which establishes the term discourse analysis to refer to research on the discourse, addresses the question of discursive contiguity on a formal plane, highlighting two issues relevant to what will later become discourse analysis. The first refers to overcoming the perspective limited to the study of the sentence, and the second concerns the correlation between culture (understood as nonlinguistic behaviour) and language/linguistic behaviour. For Harris, the connection between sentences is the result of the situation in which they have been articulated, which would lead to the conclusion that similar situations produce similarities of discourses. Harris’ theory has been compromised, in the opinion of Segre, by ignoring the signified and the intention of the speaker, a fact that generates the acknowledgement of the necessity that, in the analysis, one should relate to the semantic aspects of the discourse [4].

Following the issue of discoursiveness, we consider it important to refer to the conceptual distinction between competence and performance in Noam Chomsky’s generative grammar, developed in the second half of the 1950s.

Chomsky’s theory of linguistics opposes the notions of competence and performance, defining linguistic competence as a set of knowledge/information about the language available to any ideal speaker-listener, while linguistic performance involves the different ways in which this knowledge/information is used in the activity of producing statements, that is, in communication [6]. This conceptualization highlights the dissociation of grammar knowledge (rules, syntactic structures) from a set of other knowledge and skills related to the use of language.

The issue of competence-performance opposition, according to Latraverse [7], is relative to the neglect of aspects of speech activity that are not regulated by grammar competence and neither do they reveal any performance. The nature of communication, assuming not only the utterance of words or sentences but also mimicry, gesticulation, etc., implies the observation that beyond the verbal message one can identify an aspect whose role is not limited to illustrating the fact that the statement was produced by someone who speaks a language in a context, but that it works in order to make sense. This aspect, which falls under both competence and performance, is rendered with the help of discoursiveness.

Taking the intermediate position between competence and performance, the discourse has two dimensions: a contextual one (it cannot be dissociated from the context) and another dimension, the practice of language. Through the practical dimension of language, the discourse involves acts and interactions in which language plays the role of instrument or means of the communicative action. From this perspective, redefining competence and performance, one may say that the former relates to the rules that mechanically fix the structural description of the sentences, and the latter refers to norms, conventions and even rules that specify how contextual factors interact with grammatical structures to determine the meaning of the statement. Such an approach allows the installation of the interpretative approach proper to discourse analysis.

In response to Chomsky’s theory, Dell Hymes, the founder of ethnographic trend in communication research, introduces the notion of communicative competence, meaning a feature of the individual, constituting an ensemble of cultural and interactive knowledge, a hyper-competence resulting from the completion of the linguistic knowledge obtained from grammars and dictionaries, with a series of extralinguistic knowledge.

The impossibility of addressing the discourse outside of the situation in which it is issued implies the disclosure of the pragmatic aspect of communication and opens the way of establishing a pragmatic perspective on the one hand and an anthropo-sociological perspective on the other. Pragmatics, attempting, in Ch. Morris’ conception, ‘to develop some appropriate terms for studying the relationship of signs with those who make use of them, and for systematically ordering the results of this study’ [4] is considered a framework capable of justifying and clarifying the discursive elements that cannot be elucidated or exhausted by linguistic analysis. On the other hand, the anthropo-sociological perspective can constitute the complementary paradigm necessary to reach the semantic plurality of discourse, by taking into account the interactive and socio-normative contexts.


[1] Rovenţa-Frumuşani D. Analiza discursului Ipoteze şi ipostaze. Vol. 7. Bucureşti: Tritonic; 2004. 12 p
[2] Schiffrin D. Approaches to Discourse: Language as Social Interaction. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell; 1994
[3] Robrieux JJ. Éléments de Rhétorique et d’Argumentation. Paris: Édition Dunod; 1993
[4] Segre C. Istorie–Cultură–Critică. Bucureşti: Editura Univers; 1986. pp. 331-348
[5] Lohisse J. Comunicarea De la transmiterea mecanică la interacţiune. Iaşi: Polirom; 2002
[6] Chomsky N. Le langage et la pensée. Paris: Édition Payot; 1994
[7] Latraverse F. La pragmatique Histoire et critique. Bruxelles: Mardaga; 1987. 184 p


Lavinia Suciu (April 3rd 2019). Introductory Chapter: Discourse and Discourse Analysis. A Retrospective Approach, Advances in Discourse Analysis, Lavinia Suciu, IntechOpen, DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.82823. Available from:


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