Discourse analysis (DA), or discourse studies, is an approach to the analysis of written, vocal, or sign language use, or any significant semiotic event.

The objects of discourse analysis (discourse, writing, conversation, communicative event) are variously defined in terms of coherent sequences of sentences, propositions, speech, or turns-at-talk. Contrary to much of traditional linguistics, discourse analysts not only study language use 'beyond the sentence boundary' but also prefer to analyze 'naturally occurring' language use, not invented examples.[1] Text linguistics is a closely related field. The essential difference between discourse analysis and text linguistics is that discourse analysis aims at revealing socio-psychological characteristics of a person/persons rather than text structure.[2]

Discourse analysis has been taken up in a variety of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, including linguistics, education, sociology, anthropology, social work, cognitive psychology, social psychology, area studies, cultural studies, international relations, human geography, environmental science, communication studies, biblical studies, public relations, argumentation studies, and translation studies, each of which is subject to its own assumptions, dimensions of analysis, and methodologies.


The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. You may improve this article, discuss the issue on the talk page, or create a new article, as appropriate. (December 2010) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

Early use of the term

The ancient Greeks (among others) had much to say on discourse; however, there is ongoing discussion about whether Austria-born Leo Spitzer's Stilstudien (Style Studies) of 1928 is the earliest example of discourse analysis (DA). Michel Foucault translated it into French.[3] However, the term first came into general use following the publication of a series of papers by Zellig Harris from 1952[4] reporting on work from which he developed transformational grammar in the late 1930s. Formally equivalent relations among the sentences of a coherent discourse are made explicit by using sentence transformations to put the text in a canonical form. Words and sentences with equivalent information then appear in the same column of an array.

This work progressed over the next four decades (see references) into a science of sublanguage analysis (Kittredge & Lehrberger 1982), culminating in a demonstration of the informational structures in texts of a sublanguage of science, that of Immunology (Harris et al. 1989),[5] and a fully articulated theory of linguistic informational content (Harris 1991).[6] During this time, however, most linguists ignored such developments in favor of a succession of elaborate theories of sentence-level syntax and semantics.[7]

In January 1953, a linguist working for the American Bible Society, James A. Lauriault (alt. Loriot), needed to find answers to some fundamental errors in translating Quechua, in the Cuzco area of Peru. Following Harris's 1952 publications, he worked over the meaning and placement of each word in a collection of Quechua legends with a native speaker of Quechua and was able to formulate discourse rules that transcended the simple sentence structure. He then applied the process to Shipibo, another language of Eastern Peru. He taught the theory at the[8] Summer Institute of Linguistics in Norman, Oklahoma, in the summers of 1956 and 1957 and entered the University of Pennsylvania[9] to study with Harris in the interim year. He tried to publish a paper,[10]Shipibo Paragraph Structure, but it was delayed until 1970 (Loriot & Hollenbach 1970).[citation needed] In the meantime, Kenneth Lee Pike, a professor at the University of Michigan,[11] taught the theory, and one of his students, Robert E. Longacre, developed it in his writings. Harris's methodology disclosing the correlation of form with meaning was developed into a system for the computer-aided analysis of natural language by a team led by Naomi Sager at NYU, which has been applied to a number of sublanguage domains, most notably to medical informatics. The software for the Medical Language Processor is publicly available on SourceForge.

In the humanities

In the late 1960s and 1970s, and without reference to this prior work, a variety of other approaches to a new cross-discipline of DA began to develop in most of the humanities and social sciences concurrently with, and related to, other disciplines. These include semiotics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, and pragmatics. Many of these approaches, especially those influenced by the social sciences, favor a more dynamic study of oral talk-in-interaction. An example is "conversational analysis",[12] which was influenced by the sociologist Harold Garfinkel,[13] the founder of Ethnomethodology.


In Europe, Michel Foucault became one of the key theorists of the subject, especially of discourse, and wrote The Archaeology of Knowledge. In this context, the term 'discourse' no longer refers to formal linguistic aspects, but to institutionalized patterns of knowledge that become manifest in disciplinary structures and operate by the connection of knowledge and power. Since the 1970s, Foucault's works have had an increasing impact especially on discourse analysis in the field of social sciences. Thus, in modern European social sciences, one can find a wide range of different approaches working with Foucault's definition of discourse and his theoretical concepts. Apart from the original context in France, there has been, since 2005, a broad discussion on socio-scientific discourse analysis in Germany. Here, for example, the sociologist Reiner Keller developed his widely recognized 'Sociology of Knowledge Approach to Discourse (SKAD)'.[14] Following the sociology of knowledge by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, Keller argues that our sense of reality in everyday life and thus the meaning of every object, action and event is the product of a permanent, routinized interaction. In this context, SKAD has been developed as a scientific perspective that is able to understand the processes of 'The Social Construction of Reality' on all levels of social life by combining the prementioned Michel Foucault's theories of discourse and power while also introducing the theory of knowledge by Berger/Luckmann. Whereas the latter primarily focus on the constitution and stabilization of knowledge on the level of interaction, Foucault's perspective concentrates on institutional contexts of the production and integration of knowledge, where the subject mainly appears to be determined by knowledge and power. Therefore, the 'Sociology of Knowledge Approach to Discourse' can also be seen as an approach to deal with the vividly discussed micro–macro problem in sociology.[citation needed]


The following are some of the specific theoretical perspectives and analytical approaches used in linguistic discourse analysis:

Although these approaches emphasize different aspects of language use, they all view language as social interaction and are concerned with the social contexts in which discourse is embedded.

Often a distinction is made between 'local' structures of discourse (such as relations among sentences, propositions, and turns) and 'global' structures, such as overall topics and the schematic organization of discourses and conversations. For instance, many types of discourse begin with some kind of global 'summary', in titles, headlines, leads, abstracts, and so on.

A problem for the discourse analyst is to decide when a particular feature is relevant to the specification required. A question many linguists ask is: "Are there general principles which will determine the relevance or nature of the specification?[18]"[citation needed]

Topics of interest

Topics of discourse analysis include:[19]

Prominent academics

Political discourse

See also: Public sphere and Social media use in politics

Political discourse is the text and talk of professional politicians or political institutions, such as presidents and prime ministers and other members of government, parliament or political parties, both at the local, national and international levels, includes both the speaker and the audience.[21]

Political discourse analysis is a field of discourse analysis which focuses on discourse in political forums (such as debates, speeches, and hearings) as the phenomenon of interest. Policy analysis requires discourse analysis to be effective from the post-positivist perspective.[22][23]

Political discourse is the formal exchange of reasoned views as to which of several alternative courses of action should be taken to solve a societal problem.[24][25]

Corporate discourse

Corporate discourse can be broadly defined as the language used by corporations. It encompasses a set of messages that a corporation sends out to the world (the general public, the customers and other corporations) and the messages it uses to communicate within its own structures (the employees and other stakeholders).[26]

See also


  1. ^ "Discourse Analysis—What Speakers Do in Conversation". Linguistic Society of America. Retrieved 2019-11-25.
  2. ^ "Yatsko's Computational Linguistics Laboratory". yatsko.zohosites.com. Retrieved 2019-11-25.
  3. ^ Elden, Stuart (2016-11-10). "When did Foucault translate Leo Spitzer?". Progressive Geographies.
  4. ^ Harris, Zellig (1952). "Discourse Analysis". JSTOR.
  5. ^ Hardy, Donald E., -- (1991-04-01). "The foundations of linguistic theory: Selected writings of Roy Harris Ed. by Nigel Love (review)". Language. 67 (3). ISSN 1535-0665.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Hardy, Donald E., -- (1991-04-01). "The foundations of linguistic theory: Selected writings of Roy Harris Ed. by Nigel Love (review)". Language. 67 (3). ISSN 1535-0665.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ John Corcoran, then a colleague of Harris in Linguistics at University of Pennsylvania, summarized and critically examined the development of Harris’s thought on discourse through 1969 in lectures attended by Harris’ colleagues and students in Philadelphia and Cambridge.
    Corcoran, John (1972). Plötz, Senta (ed.). "Harris on the Structures of Language". Transformationelle Analyse. Frankfurt: Athenäum Verlag: 275–292.
  8. ^ "SIL International". SIL International. Retrieved 2020-12-03.
  9. ^ "University of Pennsylvania |". www.upenn.edu. Retrieved 2020-12-03.
  10. ^ Loriot, James; Hollenbach, Barbara (1970). "Shipibo Paragraph Structure". Foundations of Language. 6 (1): 43–66. ISSN 0015-900X. JSTOR 25000427.
  11. ^ "University of Michigan". umich.edu. Retrieved 2020-12-03.
  12. ^ "Conversational Analysis | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2020-12-03.
  13. ^ Lynch, Michael (2011-07-13). "Harold Garfinkel obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 2020-12-03.
  14. ^ Keller, Reiner (March 2011). "The Sociology of Knowledge Approach to Discourse (SKAD)". Human Studies. 34 (1): 43–65. doi:10.1007/s10746-011-9175-z. ISSN 0163-8548. S2CID 143674874.
  15. ^ James, Carl (June 1993). "What is applied linguistics?". International Journal of Applied Linguistics. 3 (1): 17–32. doi:10.1111/j.1473-4192.1993.tb00041.x. ISSN 0802-6106.
  16. ^ Barbey, Aron K.; Colom, Roberto; Grafman, Jordan (January 2014). "Neural mechanisms of discourse comprehension: a human lesion study". Brain. 137 (1): 277–287. doi:10.1093/brain/awt312. ISSN 1460-2156. PMC 3954106. PMID 24293267.
  17. ^ Yates, Diana. "Researchers map brain areas vital to understanding language". news.illinois.edu. University of Illinois. Retrieved 2019-11-25.
  18. ^ E Shaw, Sara; Bailey, Julia (October 2009). "Discourse analysis: what is it and why is it relevant to family practice?". Family Practice. 26 (5): 413–419. doi:10.1093/fampra/cmp038. ISSN 0263-2136. PMC 2743732. PMID 19556336.
  19. ^ Van Dijk, Teun (2005-01-01). "Critical discourse analysis". In Schiffrin, Deborah; Tannen, Deborah; Hamilton, Heidi E. (eds.). The Handbook of Discourse Analysis. Malden, Massachusetts, USA: Blackwell Publishers Ltd. pp. 352–371. doi:10.1002/9780470753460. ISBN 978-0-470-75346-0.
  20. ^ Sutanto, Haryo; Purbaningrum, Dwi (2022-12-29). "Representation of Power and Ideology on Jokowi's Speech". WACANA: Jurnal Ilmiah Ilmu Komunikasi. 21 (2): 238–251. doi:10.32509/wacana.v21i2.2143. ISSN 2598-7402. S2CID 255654982.
  21. ^ Kitaeva, Elena; Ozerova, Olga (2019). Intertextuality in Political Discourse. Advances in Linguistics and Communication Studies. pp. 143–170. doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-9444-4.ch007. ISBN 9781522594444. S2CID 197717211. Retrieved 2020-12-03. ((cite book)): |website= ignored (help)
  22. ^ Wortham, Stanton; Kim, Deoksoon; May, Stephen, eds. (2017). Discourse and Education. Cham: Springer International Publishing. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-02243-7. ISBN 978-3-319-02242-0.
  23. ^ Hult, F.M. (2015). "Making policy connections across scales using nexus analysis". In Hult, F.M.; Johnson, D.C (eds.). Research Methods in Language Policy and Planning: A Practical Guide (First ed.). Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley. pp. 217–31. ISBN 978-1-118-33984-8. OCLC 905699853..
  24. ^ Johnson, David W.; Johnson, Roger T. (2000). "Civil political discourse in a democracy: The contribution of psychology". Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology. 6 (4): 291–317. doi:10.1207/S15327949PAC0604_01. ISSN 1532-7949.
  25. ^ Sutanto, Haryo; Purbaningrum, Dwi (2022-12-29). "Representation of Power and Ideology on Jokowi's Speech". WACANA: Jurnal Ilmiah Ilmu Komunikasi. 21 (2): 238–251. doi:10.32509/wacana.v21i2.2143. ISSN 2598-7402. S2CID 255654982.
  26. ^ Breeze, Ruth (2013). Corporate Discourse. London: Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 978-1-4411-7753-7. OCLC 852898361.