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The Evolution of Research on the Discourse

The first stage in the study of discourse, marked by the indissoluble relationship between the signified and the signifier, according to which the perception of the signified is conditioned by the one of the signifier, covers its microstructural level (phrastic and transphrastic). It is brought forward by modern theories aimed at revealing connections at macrostructural level that are necessary to understand discourse as a whole, that is, as a set of discoursive units.

Structuralist theories, claiming to relate exclusively to the linguistic system, are clearly unsatisfactory, as well as the perspective of interaction that ignores the semiotic and symbolic plane. These ‘disadvantages’ lead to the formation of a new interdisciplinary field, based on concepts such as enunciation, interaction, transaction and performance, in which an investigative apparatus is formed, which establishes certain parameters to determine the meaning: intent, act, context and socio-interactional norms. The close connection between language act and social act is underlined by the notion according to which ‘Discourse analysis should not only explain why certain statements and not others have been preferred, but also reflect how these statements have mobilised forces and have influenced social networks’ [8]. The refusal of discourse analysis, in general, to conceptualise language through its representation function and to promote a communicative action designation for it causes a considerable change in the perspective that establishes the meaning of communication.

Research in the field has been going on to various directions for more than 30 years. Many of the research perspectives that form the field of discourse analysis are grouped in two directions, the Anglo-American one and the French one. Baylon [9] makes a comparative synthesis of research on the discourse in the two directions, of which we mention a few general aspects.

First of all, four fundamental paradigms are detected in discourse analysis that can be traced on both axes on which discourse research has evolved:

  • Structural-functional
  • Social/sociolinguistic
  • Pragmatic
  • Critical

The Anglo-American approach focuses almost exclusively on the internal properties of the discourse, namely, consistency, cohesion and pertinence, refusing the wider perspective situated beyond interpersonal connections and the reference to social context. The trends that marked the Anglo-American direction are anthropology and sociology, while the French direction was influenced by psychoanalysis, Marxism and linguistics.

In the Anglo-American discourse research, one can find a direction in which a great part of the theories was written, namely, the study of the structures of the discourse and of the functions they perform in social and cultural contexts. Since the 1970s, with the advent of Dell Hymes’s ethnography of communication, which suggests that the interest of discourse analysis consists in the way how language works in different communication events to create and reflect elements of culture (an approach to communication across the cultural factor).

Then, there is sociolinguistics, oriented to the description of language used inside small social groups, to the study of conversation, argumentation and of other conventional interactions [10, 11]. The gender analysis [12] focuses on describing the structure of the text in context in the discourses of certain communities, on how the text reflects the social aspect of the domain, no matter if it belongs to natural, social or human sciences. Halliday focuses on the structural analysis of the text, while representatives of critical discourse analysis (van Dijk) appeal to various social theories to analyse the complex relationship between language and ideology in various contexts.

Potter highlights three significant aspects regarding the preoccupations of Anglo-American discourse analysis [13]:

  • The way in which some conceptions on the world, society, events and inner universes of the individuals involved in the social practices are produced through the discourse
  • The manners in which participants develop and undermine their constructions in verbal exchanges
  • The way in which a text is a version that presents an objective reality and develops, in terms of coherence, as a stand-alone reality

The French orientation privileges language study in the social context, focusing on revealing interdisciplinary, intertextual or sequential relationships. Based on Bahtin’s writings, strongly impregnated by Marxist ideology, the French direction highlights the communicative function of language, which is regarded as social action. Starting from the premise of the social and interactive dimension of language, a linguistic trend is developed that some theoreticians consider socially relevant and realistic. In this context, the discourse acquired a strong social determinant. Thus, in the view of D. Maingueneau, the discourse analysis sums up approaches to discourse, bringing the subjects’ activity, the enunciation dynamics and the relation to the social context to the foreground [8].

The methodology of discourse analysis in French research relates to language on the one hand and to historical, sociological, psychoanalytic, philosophical and pragmatic considerations on the other, due to the correlation of the statement with its production conditions. From this perspective, the analysis of the discourse is not about what the text says, but about how it says it, along two indissociable orientations, namely, the analysis of the actual discourse (assuming the study of the statements made in the corpus) and the theory of discourse (aiming at establishing rules that organise potential sequences of sentences).

In the view of M. Pêcheux, the discourse analysis offers the opportunity to study the immediate communicative situations through the appeal to the statement-enunciation relationship and to the pertinence of the discourse situations, as well as to the possibility to study the sociocultural situations within the pragmatic framework by approaching them with linguistic criteria: ‘the language […] establishes the possibility of discoursive processes, which may be set in specific production conditions determined historically by the ideological orientation of social formations’ [14].


[8] Maingueneau D. L’énonciation en linguistique française. Paris: Hachette; 1991. pp. 11-35
[9] Baylon C. Sociolinguistique Société, langue et discours. Paris: Nathan; 1991. pp. 235-238
[10] Schiffrin D. Meaning, Form, and Use in Context: Linguistic Applications. 1984. Available from: [Accessed: 10, 2016]
[11] Tannen D. Conversational Style: Analyzing Talk among Friends. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation; 1984. Available from:
(S(lz5mqp453edsnp55rrgjct55))/reference/ReferencesPapers.aspx?ReferenceID=1596691 [Accessed: 10, 2016]
[12] Bhatia VJ. Analysing Genre: Language Use in Professional Settings. London: Longman; 1994
[13] Silverman D. Interpretarea datelor calitative. Metode de analiză a comunicării, textului şi interacţiunii. Iaşi: Editura Polirom; 2004. 198 p
[14] Pêcheux M. Analyse du discourse, langues et idéologies. Langages. 1975;XXXVII:11-27


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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