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AUTHOR: Martínez, Dolores Fernández TITLE: Introducing Discourse Analysis in Class PUBLISHER: Cambridge Scholars Publishing YEAR: 2011
Vaughan Mak, College of International Education, Hong Kong Baptist University
This book is intended to be an introduction to discourse analysis for undergraduates. It aims to expand students' repertoire of critical thinking skills through brief discussions of the theoretical concepts and analytic tools involved in discourse analysis. As such, students ''are expected to evaluate how the concepts and tools provided in this book help them to analyse real texts for practical purposes'' (x). The book is divided into three main parts.
Part I is entitled ''Theory Notes''. It is sub-divided into five small units, each with an average length of no more than 8 pages: ''Introduction to Discourse Analysis'', ''Social Dimension of Discourse'', ''Text Structure and Text Type'', ''Methodological Approach to Discourse Analysis'', and ''Ideology and Power in Discourse''. On each page of the units are two powerpoint slides that highlight the key terms, concepts, or ideas related to the topic at hand. Each unit ends with an ''exam practice'', occasionally with a suggested article to read and a list of questions to ponder.
Unit 1, ''Introduction to Discourse Analysis'', touches on the basic questions surrounding the purpose, definition, origins, principles, theory and practice of the discipline. Martínez distinguishes between ''text'' and ''discourse'', and points out that the latter has a bi-directional relationship with society; i.e. discourse and society have a mutual impact on each other. She defines DA (Discourse Analysis) as ''an interpretative enterprise in which processes of production and reception should be as close as possible'' (7).
Unit 2, ''Social Dimension of Discourse'', attempts to explore the bi-directional relationship between discourse and society in terms of three major components: social members, institution, and ideology. Social members construct various kinds of text within an institution, which in turn conditions or constrains the way texts are constructed, most often through the mediation of values or beliefs engendered or promoted within the institution (i.e. ideology). Martínez concludes by stating that discourse, therefore, is ''a network in which all these elements are included in such a way that by drawing one of them [sic], we might obtain information about the others'' (14).
Unit 3, ''Text Structure and Text Types'', is a bi-partite discussion of the levels of analysis in DA on the one hand, and the purposes of different kinds of text on the other. Martínez delineates the following rank scale in grammar in DA: morpheme, word, group (phrase), clause, and sentence. She also pays particular attention to ''cohesion'' – which Crystal (2006) defines as ''the ties that bind a text together'' (261) – and briefly discusses the lexical and grammatical variants of the concept. She then identifies five text types: descriptive, narrative, expository, argumentative, and literature, while also drawing attention to a couple of other different typologies.
Unit 4, ''Methodological Approach to Discourse Analysis'', outlines how DA benefits from the use of the functional grammar of Michael Halliday, which sees language as performing three primary functions: delivering information (clause as message), transacting between persons (clause as exchange), and expressing reality (clause as representation). Here, Martínez gives some simplistic illustrations of the key concepts in functional grammar that can be used as instruments of analysis in DA.
In Unit 5 ''Ideology and Power in Discourse'', Martínez explores the idea of ''Critical Discourse Analysis'' (CDA), which she defines as ''DA with an attitude'' (37), whose aim is to ''uncover the implicit connections between language, power, and ideology'' (36). She contrasts the critical nature of CDA with the general descriptive orientation of DA, asserting that the former is premised on naturalization, a process whereby ideological values and beliefs within a social structure are gradually transmuted into taken-for-granted, common-sense practice.
Part II of the book is called ''Providing Tools for Discourse Analysis'', which is sub-divided into six units. The introductory unit is followed by five focal units, namely ''Grammar and Discourse Analysis'', ''Parts of Speech'', ''Content and Function Words'', ''Cohesion and Coherence'', and ''Cohesive Devices''. With the exception of the last, each unit is two pages long.
Unit 1 is a consciousness-raising exercise. Students are first asked a list of questions to explore how DA might relate to their everyday language use. Then, using political slogans as examples, Martínez challenges students to think about how different language elements in a slogan might impact people differently.
Unit 2, ''Grammar and Discourse Analysis'', basically tries to answer the question, ''How do sentences fit together to produce a logical text?'' It scratches the surface of how sentence-level grammar affects the way we understand a text and relate it to our real-life experience.
''Parts of Speech'' is a short unit that reviews the range of word classes and explores how the same word might function differently in the capacity of different word classes.
''Content and Function Words'' is another short unit where Martínez highlights the differences in the use of the two word types and the different roles they play in constructing text.
In Unit 5, ''Cohesion and Coherence'', Martínez focuses on distinguishing the two concepts through an examination of their defining features and two separate examples.
Unit 6, ''Cohesive Devices'', is the most substantial unit in the whole book (23 pages). It is a collection of exercises revolving around two key concepts – lexical and grammatical cohesion – and the major cohesive devices that fall under these two main categories. Lexical cohesion maintains the ties that bind a text together through content words, while grammatical cohesion does the same through functional words. Martínez basically follows the framework of Halliday & Hasan (1976), under which lexical cohesion is approached through devices such as repetition and synonyms, superordinates and hyponyms, opposites, and collocation; whereas grammatical cohesion is understood in terms of connectives, ellipsis, reference words, and substitutes. This unit consists of sections and sections of exercises with no instructive material that explains or elaborates the key concepts or devices.
The third part of the book is called ''Analysing Texts''. It is a databank comprising a wide variety of text samples that cut across different genres, including email, news articles, recommendation letters, lyrics, advertisements, horoscopes, dialogues, exams, speeches, interviews, t-shirt slogans, hoax mails, etc. Under each text sample, questions are asked to get students to focus on specific language elements and explore the effect that these elements have on the discourse and its interpretation. This is the application part of the book, where students are given ample materials to drill their critical thinking skills by examining how certain linguistic choices evoke specific interpretive effects that configure meaning creation in the mind of the reader.
As an introductory text to a linguistic discipline, the book is not quite satisfactory, even though it is meant to be used in a hands-on manner in class. The book has several drawbacks that make its usability rather questionable.
First, there is not much substance to the book. Part I, ''Theory Notes'', is supposed to lay the groundwork for understanding what DA is and how exactly it works, but that section is, as its name indicates, no more than a compilation of brief notes. Key terms and concepts are presented in a short series of powerpoint slides without ample room for clear elaboration. Furthermore, within the very limited space of content, the information provided for students sometimes confuses them rather than clarifying their understanding. A case in point is when the author tries to define the principle of intertextuality, a crucial concept in DA: ''Discourses should not be valued as units with precise limits, but as hybrids of other discourses which acquire their full meaning with the background provided by the latter'' (5). In this quote, the two unclear points are: the meaning of ''discourses should be valued as hybrids of other discourses''; and to what exactly ''the latter'' refers. For a student who is new to DA, a definition like this is quite difficult to comprehend.
Problems such as the one mentioned above may be alleviated by giving clear examples for illustration. However, there are very few examples used for that purpose in the whole book. The ''Theory Notes'' are essentially a mere conglomeration of points which mostly stand on their own with limited cohesion with other points and no elaboration by way of examples. For instance, the author states a basic principle in DA: ''Discourse is determined by social phenomena. Social phenomena are influenced by discourse structures'' (4). A simple illustration would do well to bring this principle to life, but the author leaves the discussion at that point and immediately moves on to ''methodological implications''. It is entirely uncertain whether students can have a firm grasp of key concepts in DA based on statements or discussions that are, at times, vague and lack guidance. Another case in point is when the author talks about the interdisciplinary nature of DA. She points out that we are dealing with a ''theoretical framework of mutual relationship between DA and other neighbour research fields (anthropology, philosophy, sociology, religion)'' (7). Again, no illustration is given as to how DA might overlap or draw on studies conducted in the related disciplines mentioned, and as such, students are merely left with another piece of crucial information that lacks application.
It would be untrue to say that the book is totally devoid of examples. However, when there are examples, they seem too simplistic to significantly impact students. For instance, in explaining the concept ''clause as representation'' in functional grammar, Martínez gives the example ''The tiger caught the cat'', and designates the role of ''participant'' to ''The tiger'', ''process'' to ''caught'', and ''goal'' to ''cat''. Unfortunately, the utterances we encounter in everyday life are rarely so simple, and it is not immediately clear how such an analysis might benefit our critical thinking skills, regardless of whether we are considering DA or not. In fact, while it is definitely correct that functional grammar is a potent analytic tool, it seems difficult to attempt to discuss it and demonstrate its application within the span of just ten powerpoint slides.
Meanwhile, the author does not seem to have put enough thought into the structure of the theory notes either. A clear example of repetition is found in Unit 2, where the fact that social members, institution, and ideology represent the three social dimensions of discourse is brought up four times on four different slides. Moreover, when discussing such social dimensions, the author interposes one single slide on literary texts, claiming that ''the social side of language is also inherent to literary texts'' (11), and that ''literary communication can be described in social terms and not strictly in linguistic terms'' (11). Unfortunately, neither point is further elaborated, which fails to make the whole discussion more logical and coherent.
Finally, it is quite puzzling to set a list of ''exam'' practice questions at the end of each unit when the theory notes provided by the author do not provide much information for students in the first place. For example, there are only 12 slides in Unit 1 but there are a total of 7 questions; on the other hand, in Unit 2, where the three social dimensions of discourse have been stated four times within a span of 11 slides, there are a total of 5 questions. It would be interesting to know what the author expects the students to say by way of responses. A case in point would be the question, ''What does the principle of intertextuality mean?'' The only discussion about the concept in the whole book is what I have cited earlier: ''Principle of intertexuality: Discourses should not be valued as units with precise limits, but as hybrids of other discourses which acquire their full meaning with the background provided by the latter'' (5). It is unclear whether the author would be satisfied if students simply reproduce such a definition as the answer, or if she would expect them to get extra information from sources beyond the book.
In short, the book seems more like a collection of materials used for a conference presentation or workshop. More information and illustrations need to be provided if the book is intended to introduce DA to students with little or no background in linguistics. The book does have some useful and interesting application exercises in Part III, such as the ones that require students to examine common everyday texts like emails, ads, or even exam questions. However, it is still unlikely that the general lack of substance in Parts I and II will have adequately prepared students for tackling most of the exercises.
Much better introductions to DA, following a somewhat hands-on approach, are not hard to find. Cook (1989) is a classic, where key concepts and discussions are divided into major sections, followed by review questions and simple but useful exercises. Written in a similar approach, but with a pedagogical slant, is McCarthy (1991). A more recent introduction is Paltridge (2006), but its scope is slightly wider, including conversation analysis, pragmatics, and corpus approaches to discourse. Another good resource for introduction to text analysis is Carter et al. (2008), which serves as an excellent introduction to the analysis of language as discourse – as an interactive unit of communication – well supported and illustrated with plenty of examples, exercises, and explanations.
Carter, R., Goddard, A., Reah, D., Sanger. K, & Bowring, M. (2008). Working with Texts: A Core Introduction to Language Analysis.
Cook, G. (1989). Discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Crystal, D. (2006) How Language Works. London: Penguin.
Halliday, M. & Hasan, R. (1976). Cohesion in English. London: Longman.
McCarthy, M. (1991). Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.
Paltridge, B. (2006). Discourse Analysis: An Introduction. London: Continuum.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Vaughan Mak is a Senior Lecturer at the College of International Education
under Hong Kong Baptist University. He is currently teaching academic
writing and linguistics courses to college students. He is interested in
research on corpus linguistics and corpus-driven grammar, pragmatics, text
and discourse analysis, and stylistics. He wrote his doctoral dissertation
on the pragmatics and phraseology of the introductory-it construction.