Language allows us to say things, be things, and do things. The article “An Introduction to Discourse Analysis” by James Paul Gee is unusual yet compelling. Discourse analysis is a field of scholarly practice concerned with how language forms, constitutes and constructs identities, reality, and social relationships.
Gee gives an example of the game Yu-gi-oh and states the directions in which the reader can identify each word, but it still makes no sense if you do not know the game. To learn it, you have to play the game, maybe read some texts that help you understand the cards, but mostly just playing the game—thus arguing that language gets meaning from practice. Language is used to perform social action; and how power is reproduced, construed, perpetuated, and legitimated in society through practice.
I never thought of language gained through practice until now. As a first-year teacher, also being very young, I was scrutinized for the way I spoke. Maybe I was still in college mode, student mode, just being a 25-year-old girl who didn’t realize she was now an “adult.” One day the assigned CIT called my classroom to inform me a cellphone was stolen in my classroom, it was an allegation, not knowing how to respond and simply being in a middle of a lesson, I responded saying “ok.” It wasn’t an assured ok, more like a confused, ok? The CIT was furious, she assumed I was being rude, and there started a conflict, the last thing I wanted as a first-year teacher. This was the first of many instances where I was judged based on my language. I was even told once by my school principal that I need to start speaking more professionally. To think about it, I now study the way teachers talk and practice how I should be talking. Hence the example the author provided of Yu-gi-oh, language being acquired through practice. And the concept of winning and losing, if I do not succeed at speaking professionally, I lose a social good, but if I succeed, I win.
There are two forms of discourse analysis: descriptive and critical.
- Descriptive: to describe how language works in order to understand it.
- Critical: to deeply explain but also speak to and intervene in social, controversial, and political issues.
Gee mentions the shortcomings for both methods, stating that descriptive is an “evasion of social and political responsibility” and critical is unscientific because it is “too driven by passion” (9). In the end, Gee claims that Critical Discourse analysis, however, should be more critical because language itself is political.
Tatyana Bondarouk and Huub Ruel’s article “Discourse Analysis: Making Complex Methodology Simple” breaks down Critical Discourse Analysis. Is it me, or was the first article way easier to digest than this one?
First, I want to get into the concept of hermeneutics, which views interpretations as eternal or open, which is supported by the idea of language. Language users strategically assign meanings to words, sentences, paragraphs, or larger structures to discourse, and understanding language is always an interpretation. The interpreter’s job then is to link how these semantic representations are related to models of individual language users and general world knowledge shared by communities. I guess in a way, that’s what we try to teach our students? Right? Interpret text and find meaning.
Everything in this article kind of went over my head, I don’t think discourse analysis in any way is difficult to understand. However, the way this article is written is complex; I think that’s the right word. The concluding paragraph of this article helped me understand it a bit more; these are the steps I recognized we have to follow to do discourse analysis:
- Created meanings (held by individuals or groups)
- The researcher interprets (understands) by exploring the interplay between texts, discourse, and context.
- The researcher uses context knowledge to link social events that mutually support the research.
- How the research found results must be recognizable by interplay, individuals, and other texts, discourse, and the interpretive and explanatory nature of the analysis.
- Finalizing analysis: good interpretation, and scientific discussions about findings and results.
After reading this particular article, I can’t have for tonight’s discussion to clarify my interpretation of this text. In a way, are we using discourse analysis in this class? We are always interpreting, so hey, maybe we are!
Bondarouk, Tatyana and Ruel, Huub, “Discourse Analysis: Making Complex Methodology Simple” (2004). ECIS 2004 Proceedings. 1. http://aisel.aisnet.org/ecis2004/1