What is Discourse Analysis?

Discourse can be defined in three ways:

  • Language beyond the level of a sentence
  • Language behaviours linked to social practices
  • Language as a system of thought

Discourse Analysis (DA) is a modern discipline of the social sciences that covers a wide variety of different sociolinguistic approaches. It aims to study and analyse the use of discourse in at least one of the three ways stated above, and more often than not, all of them at once. Analysis of discourse looks not only at the basic level of what is said, but takes into consideration the surrounding social and historical contexts. As Sam Kirkham mentions in the video below, making the distinction between whether a person is described as a ‘terrorist’ or a ‘freedom fighter’ is something DA would look at, whilst considering the implications of each term. To expand, 'terrorist' is a term that brings negative connotations of evil and violence, whereas 'freedom fighter' has positive connotations of fighting towards political upheaval of dictatorships. So, one term is looked upon a lot more favourably than the other, and this is what a Discourse Analyst would consider, as well as looking at the relationship of these terms with a widely used term such as ‘Muslim’. Discourse analysts will look at any given text, and this just means anything that communicates a message, and particularly, how that message constructs a social reality or view of the world.

A sub-discipline of DA is ‘Critical Discourse Analysis’ (CDA), and this looks at discourse from a politically motivated level. An analyst in this field will identify a topic for analysis, and then collect a corpus of texts, before finally analysing it to identify how language is used to reproduce ideologies in the text. A corpus is large, structured electronic database of texts, often used in linguistics. Using a corpus isn't the only method of analysis in CDA, as any method which provides an insight into ideology in discourse is accepted by researchers. CDA will look at the different levels of a text; the macro, meso and micro levels, but this is discussed more in depth in the Example Research section.

What is Discourse Analysis?