The Concept of Discourse Community is an essay by John Swales that addresses the ongoing academic argument over the social or constructed nature of language use, as well as, arguments regarding the meaning of discourse community and how this meaning differs from a speech community. In this excerpt from his book Genre Analysis, Swales evinces that discourse communities all utilize genres, of which many are recognizable to individuals outside the group, for instance, reports or memos. However, he indicates that these groups formulate their own conventions for those genres based on their desired goals. The purpose of this business letter is to analyze how Swales explains communication and interaction through discourse communities and how his concepts are relatable to real life experiences.
The utilization of the term “discourse community” by Swales in this excerpt points towards an increasingly rife assumption that discourse occurs within the conventions defined by communities based on their desired goals, be they social groups or academic disciplines. Nonetheless, the definitions of discourse communities differ based on research methodology, genre, shared objects of study, opportunity and frequency of communication and stylistic conventions as denoted by Fennell et al. (1987). In as much as there is a need to have a vivid definition of discourse community, such a clarification is inconsequential since in the end, the concept of discourse community turns out to be no more than the convenient translation of speech community that is critical to the ethnography of communication and common to sociolinguistics by composition specialists. However, speech community and discourse community are distinct in certain ways that emphasize the need for clarification of their meaning.The Concept of Discourse Community
For instance, speech community does not do justice to communities that are usually engaged in writing as their preferred medium of communication and human interaction. Moreover, communication between members situated in discordant locations will most likely take place through writings rather than speech. As such, the medium of communication distinguishes speech community and discourse community. The need to distinguish a sociolinguistic group from a sociorhetorical group also forms a basis for the distinction between the concepts of speech community and discourse community. In a sociorhetorical discourse community, the principal determinants of linguistic behavior are functional, thus, the communicative needs of the group are based on the desire of the people to pursue goals that precede solidarity and socialization. On other hand, in a sociolinguistic speech community, the principal determinants of linguistic behavior are social, thus, the communicative needs of the group are based on the desire of the individuals to pursue solidarity and socialization objectives. Finally, Swales mentions that on the basis of the fabric of society, speech communities tend to be centripetal, that is, they absorb people into that general fabric, whereas discourse communities are centrifugal in the sense that they separate individuals into special-interest or occupational groups. The implication of this distinction by Swales is that while a speech community acquires its members through accident, birth or adoption, a discourse community acquires its members through training, persuasion and salient qualification. As such, there are six defining features that are key to identifying a group of people as a discourse community.The Concept of Discourse Community
A discourse community is defined by having a broadly agreed or mutual set of common public goals. It also has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members which vary according to the community, for instance, telecommunications, memos, newsletters, convocations, conversations and correspondence among others. Another feature of discourse community is that it utilizes its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide feedback and information, hence, membership implies taking advantage of the informational opportunities. As such, a key characteristic is that a discourse community uses and possesses one or more genres in the communicative enhancement of its objectives. Last but not least, in addition to using and possessing genres, a discourse community uses specific lexical terms known to broader speech communities in technical and special ways. Finally, a discourse community is defined by having a threshold of members with a formidable magnitude of pertinent content and discoursal expertise. Swales discussion of discourse community and its features is not only vital to human interaction and communication but also essential to business and writing. I will approach this argument from the perspective of a microfinance group I belong to in my residential area which falls under the category of a discourse community.
First of all, the microfinance group must meet every fortnight for discussions on various agendas, both business and social, as well as, remit fixed monthly contributions and conduct mini-fundraisers to boost the account. This way, the group gets to maintain constant human interaction and communication on top of communication through emails, calls and text messages. The group also maintains formal minutes and prepares books of accounts that outline the financial position of the group, contributions, collections from mini-fundraisers, expenses, as well as, shares of the members. Thus, the business aspect of our discourse community is also enhanced. Moving forward, discourse communities provides one with valuable information on human interaction, communication, writing and business acumen that can help individuals develop better relations with people and achieve immense, but common goals in various fields, professions and social settings.The Concept of Discourse Community
Fennelle, B., Herndl, C., & Carolyn-Miller. (1987). Mapping discourse communities. Paper Presented At The CCC Convention, Atlanta, Ga, March, 1987.
Swales, J. (1990). The Concept of Discourse Community. Genre Analysis: English In Academic And Research Settings. Boston: Cambridge UP, 1990. 21 – 32. Print.