Discourse Analysis: The State of the Art : Discourse understanding bridges the gap between what is said and what is meant

In this essay I give an overview of approaches to discourse analysis, trying to point out interesting new perspectives on the one hand and older research methods on the other. In chapter 2 my description begins with communicative dynamism and the chain of reference which looks back at a long tradition of studying topic and comment or theme and rheme. For decades a problem has troubled linguists which they were not able to overcome. As long as they tried to deal with aspects of information flow, i.e. ´given`, ´new` or ´recoverable` information, of syntax, i.e. subject vs. object, of semantics, i.e. agent vs. instrument, of perspectivization and figure-ground alignment in an implicit and undifferentiated way, the results were bound to be muddled or at least questionable. This is the reason why I present a rather detailed account of Langacker´s fresh look at these phenomena with the help of several new and interesting criteria and models. The development in the area of cooperative interaction, speech acts and inferencing (chapter 3) is of an incremental nature. The combination of philosophical ideas and sociological perspectives has paved the way toward promising practical applications such as cross-cultural and cross-social studies, studies of child development, language teaching and even aviation communication. I have treated ethnography of communication in the shortest fashion (chapter 4). But this approach is so complex that it would take a much longer paper to describe all the relevant facets of it in detail. It is widely used in fieldwork studies and this is evidence of the fact that adopting this methodology of participant observation is very valuable, indeed. Conversational analysis (chapter 5) is a field that is gaining ground. Numerous new articles have appeared lately. It can be assumed that one of the reasons for this is that whereas written communication has a long research history, this is not the case for spontaneously spoken language in interaction so that new research results can be expected. Studying conversation means studying utterances in social interaction, where the meanings are created and negotiated. What comes to light in such studies is the importance of interpersonal meanings of solidarity of group members and social feedback. I deal with narratological and psychotherapeutic aspects of story-telling in chapter 6. It became evident that there is a deeper social and psychological dimension to this ordinary everyday activity. The relatedness to conversation analysis is obvious: Stories allow speakers to hold the floor longer than usual. They use this opportunity to make their points by often implicitly referring to social rights and obligations. The mental representation approach (chapter 7) deals with the cognitive processes that take place in the mind of the hearers and which allow them to interpret the discourse elements contextually and produce a mental text representation. It has been positively influenced by the upsurge of Cognitive Linguistics. It is not only restricted to the “static“ description of referential and relational coherence. It also deals with the question of what interactants do in order to safeguard communicational success. This is work done at the intersection of the mental and the interactional processes which are involved in communication. The approaches are diverse and multifaceted because human communication is diverse and multifaceted. This assessment is not meant to suggest that the approaches are basically equivalent. Their description shows that they focus on different aspects of communication and/or interaction and that they assign different importance to the structure or the function of discourse. Discourse analysis is not restricted to a single discipline but is essentially interdisciplinary. Its main source disciplines are linguistics, sociology, anthropology, psychology and philosophy.


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