According to McCarthy (2013), discourse analysis is concerned with the study of the relationship between language and the contexts in which it is utilized. It is the product of discordant disciplines, namely semiotics, anthropology, linguistics, psychology and sociology and has since developed into a heterogeneous and broad discipline which finds its meaning through the description of language above the sentence, as well as, an interest in the cultural influences and contexts which affect the language in use. However, despite the distinction between discourse functions and language forms, the labels utilized to describe discourse do not clash with those common in grammar; instead, they enrich and complement each other.
It is imperative to note that the scope of discourse analysis goes beyond the description and analysis of spoken interaction. As McCarthy (2013) states, discourse analysis also encompasses the description and analysis of written and printed word. When it comes to models of analysis of spoken discourse, Sinclair and Coulthard (1975) expound on the Birmingham model whereby the research initially focuses on the structure of discourse in school classrooms. While this model is not the only valid approach to analyzing spoken discourse, it is relatively simple but powerful and also has connexions with the study of speech acts. This mostly applies to conversations or spoken interactions in certain formal settings such as in classrooms. For conversations outside the classroom, the settings vary in their structure. However, even with the discordancy, freedom and lack of structure of these conversations, the differences only exist in the form of speech-act labels required to describe what is happening. In this regard, the need to expand and modify the Sinclair-Coulthard model utilized in discourse analysis has been justified by these differences and changes.
In the context of written discourse, the problems that exist in spoken transcripts such as everyone speaking at once are absent. Normally, the writer has had ample time to reckon about what he or she will say and how he or she will say it. However, just as in spoken interactions, the overall questions remain the same, that is, what rules or regulations do individuals adhere to when formulating written texts. Moreover, as in spoken discourse, should people find such rules and if they can be proven to be elements that possess discordant realizations in different language or that they may hinder discourse analysis for learners in other ways, then the insights of written discourse analysis might be applicable in certain or specific ways to language teaching.
Text interpretation involves various steps and approaches. One approach is identifying markers, that is, linguistic signals of discourse and sematic functions such as the –ed on the verb is a marker of past tense. These markers are concerned with the surface of the text and create links across sentence boundaries, as well as, pair and group together items that are related. Another approach to text interpretation entails recognizing textual patterns. There are certain patterns in text that reoccur many times and as such, become deeply ingrained as part of people’s cultural knowledge. Such patterns usually manifest in functional relationships between bits of texts such as clauses, phrases, sentences or groups of sentences to be known as or referred to as segments when performing discourse analysis. The most contemplated text interpretation is that which involves finding the relationship between the first and second part of a sentence so as to formulate a phenomenon-reason relationship. Overall, discourse analysis encompasses the analysis of written and spoken language over and above the concerns such as the structure of the sentence or clause in different settings, for instance, written texts or transcripts, conversations inside and outside classroom, as well as, in settings not discussed in this paper such as social setting of discourse analysis.
McCarthy, Michael. Discourse Analysis For Language Teachers. Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Sinclair, J, and M Coulthard. Towards An Analysis Of Discourse. Oxford University Press, 1975.