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Review of  Introducing Discourse Analysis in Class

Reviewer: Vaughan Mak
Book Title: Introducing Discourse Analysis in Class
Book Author: Dolores Fernández Martínez
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 22.2971

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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

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

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.

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.

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