Discourse Analysis

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Discourse analysis is a research method for studying written or spoken language in relation to its social context. It aims to understand how language is used in real life situations. Whereas other areas of language study might focus on individual parts of language such as words and phrases (grammar) or the pieces that make up words. Discourse analysis looks at a running conversation involving a speaker and listener (or a writer’s text and its reader). In discourse analysis, the context of a conversation is taken into account as well as what’s being said. This context may include a social and cultural framework, including the location of a speaker at the time of the discourse, as well as nonverbal cues such as body language, and, in the case of textual communication, it may also include images and symbols. “It’s the study of real language use, by real speakers in real situations,” explains Teun A. van Dijk, a noted author and scholar in the field.

When you do discourse analysis, you might focus on:

  • The purposes and effects of different types of language
  • Cultural rules and conventions in communication
  • How values, beliefs and assumptions are communicated
  • How language use relates to its social, political and historical context

Discourse analysis is a common qualitative research method in many humanities and social science disciplines, including linguistics, sociology, anthropology, psychology and cultural studies. Conducting discourse analysis means examining how language functions and how meaning is created in different social contexts. It can be applied to any instance of written or oral language, as well as non-verbal aspects of communication such as tone and gestures.

Materials that are suitable for discourse analysis include:

  • Books, newspapers and periodicals
  • Marketing material, such as brochures and advertisements
  • Business and government documents
  • Websites, forums, social media posts and comments
  • Interviews and conversations

By analyzing these types of discourse, researchers aim to gain an understanding of social groups and how they communicate. Unlike linguistic approaches that focus only on the rules of language use, discourse analysis emphasizes the contextual meaning of language. It focuses on the social aspects of communication and the ways people use language to achieve specific effects. Instead of focusing on smaller units of language, such as sounds, words or phrases, discourse analysis is used to study larger chunks of language, such as entire conversations, texts, or collections of texts. The selected sources can be analyzed on multiple levels. Discourse analysis is a qualitative and interpretive method of analyzing texts. You make interpretations based on both the details of the material itself and on contextual knowledge. There are many different approaches and techniques you can use to conduct discourse analysis. Step 1: Define the research question and select the content of analysis. Step 2: Gather information and theory on the context. Step 3: Analyze the content for themes and patterns. Step 4: Review your results and draw conclusions.

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I enjoyed reading this particular article about discourse analysis. It resonated with me because I always had a interest in language and in the social sciences. What led me to pursue my minor in Sociology was my love of learning about people, places, language and society and the dynamic interactions of all. Like we learned with the previous research methods we studied, there are pros and cons to all methods. I personally believe that the positive outweighs the negative with discourse analysis. Here are some of the advantages I see:

  1. It enhances the understanding of certain cultural practices in the community.
  2. Gives the explanation behind some of the social behaviors in the community.
  3. Reveals the unspoken and unacknowledged aspects of human behavior.
  4. Promotes positive individual and social change by demystifying the function of language.
  5. Facilitated the spread of multilingualism across the world.
  6. Enhanced improvements in human resource management by acting as a qualitative method of data collection and analysis.
  7. Improved the communication process between individuals by critically examining the difference between text and talk.
  8. Discourse analysis is content specific, therefore, important in explaining the dynamism observed in the society.I embedded this video below I thought it was interesting and highlights the importance of discourse and language. I embedded the video below which is a interesting Ted Talk about language. I wanted to include something different then the usual videos explaining each research method! Enjoy! Xo
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