LINGUIST List 13.726

Mon Mar 18 2002

Review: Johnstone, Discourse Analysis

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  • Kerstin Fischer, Johnstone (2002) Discourse Analysis

    Message 1: Johnstone (2002) Discourse Analysis

    Date: Mon, 18 Mar 2002 12:22:07 +0100 (MET)
    From: Kerstin Fischer <>
    Subject: Johnstone (2002) Discourse Analysis

    Johnstone, Barbara (2002) Discourse Analysis. Blackwell Publishers, xv+269pp, paperback ISBN 0-631-20877-1, $34.95, Introducing Linguistics 3.

    Kerstin Fischer, University of Bremen

    INTRODUCTION 'Discourse Analysis' is intended as a very first introduction to analysing discourse for undergraduate or beginning graduate students. In contrast to, for instance, Schiffrin`s 'Approaches to Discourse', 'Discourse Analysis' is not organised according to the different methods available in the area. Instead, the author considers discourse analysis as a "systematic, rigorous way of suggesting answers to research questions posed in and across disciplines (...). I see discourse analysis as a research method that can be (and is being) used by scholars with a variety of academic and non-academic affiliations, coming from a variety of disciplines, to answer a variety of questions" (xi). Accordingly, the book is organised on the basis of six broad categories, corresponding to six perspectives on "how discourse is shaped by its context, and how discourse shapes its context" (9). These are:

    - the relationship between discourse and the world - the relationship between discourse and language - the relationship between discourse and the participants - the relationship between discourse and prior discourse - the relationship between discourse and the medium - the relationship between discourse and purpose

    Johnstone holds that these six problem areas "constitute a _heuristic_ for analysing discourse" (9), and this provides the structure of the book.

    OVERVIEW Each chapter provides an overview of interesting questions and important work done with respect to the problem area under consideration. The presentation of information is regularly followed by sections of 'Discussion', in which the reader is invited to apply the information presented to examples of discourse, to think further about related questions, to solve more complex puzzles, or even to carry out projects such as recording different types of conversations, and transcribing and analysing them according to particular questions. Each chapter ends with a summary of the main issues addressed and a list of suggested further reading, presenting particularly influential studies as well as reviews and overviews (xii). At the end of the book, an index and a glossary can be found.

    The first chapter presents a short definition of 'discourse' ("actual instances of communication in the medium of language" (2), as well as "conventional ways of talking that both create and are created by conventional ways of thinking" (3)) and 'analysis', followed by the above mentioned presentation of discourse analysis as a heuristic comprising the six problem areas. The chapter continues with a brief, exemplary, analysis of some texts related to an exhibition of 'The Splendors of Ancient Egypt', which is meant as an introduction to the six problem areas and which is promising, entertaining, and motivating. We find then a short discussion of the data of discourse analysis, transcription issues and the distinction between descriptive and critical goals of analysis.

    The second chapter addresses the relationship between discourse and the world. Johnstone discusses, for instance, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis using the example of French and Burmese categorization systems. Furthermore, with examples from a novel by Mansfield and a magical chant from Panama, Johnstone addresses the relationship between language and ideology. Introducing Critical Discourse Analysis, she shows how linguistic choices have effects on the presentation of actions, actors, and events, as well as knowledge status, and what influences choices in naming and wording, as well as the incorporation and representation of other voices, may have. Johnstone then presents a discussion of ideologies of language (the conduit metaphor, for instance). The chapter concludes with a discussion of the role of silence in ideology analysis, as it is particularly evident in translation.

    The topic of the third chapter is the relationship between discourse and language structure. The first part of the chapter is oriented at the different units of discourse: words, lines, turns, moves, paragraphs, episodes, and schemata. The section 'The Emergent Organization of Conversation' discusses turn-taking phenomena and presents some insights from conversation analysis. Following this, the given-new distinction, cohesion, and the nature of 'rules' in discourse analysis are discussed. In contrast to all other chapters, this chapter does not end with a summary.

    Chapter four is about speakers, hearers and audiences. The chapter starts out with a discussion of the relation between power and solidarity and continues with roles and expectations of speakers and hearers and their manifestations in discourse. In this context, Goffman's concept of footing is introduced. Johnstone then discusses Lakoff's and Brown & Levinson's concepts of politeness. She proceeds by discussing the use of predefined categories, such as sex or nationality, and concludes with the warning that no matter how detailed the description of the social context of a speech situation may be, it is impossible to predict what a speaker will utter or how she will interpret an utterance.

    Chapter five describes the relationship between discourse and prior discourse. Johnstone introduces the notion of intertextuality and presents a functional analysis of repetition. Following this, the concepts of register, genre and plot are discussed.

    Chapter six addresses the relationship between discourse and the medium. Using the example of the 'Homeric question', i.e. the question regarding the authorship of the Iliad and Odyssey, Johnstone presents the concepts of orality and literacy. She then discusses the relationship between communication and technology, showing that the way technology may influence communication may be ideologically shaped. In what follows, Johnstone elaborates on how discourse structure and planning processes are interrelated, on the relative fluidity and interactivity of hypertext, and on how interpersonal relationships may be affected by the medium in computer-mediated communication.

    Chapter seven, on discourse and purpose, starts out with a presentation of the notion of speech act, followed by a discussion of contextualization cues and discourse markers in their role to support the communication partner in inferring how the speaker wants her utterance to be understood. Johnstone then discusses rhetorical strategies, examining an example from the 'Letter from a Birmingham Jail' by Martin Luther King Jr. and presenting an analysis of a speech by an activist from the Black Panther party who, as she argues, was drawing from a particular style of speaking (religious sermons) which was unfamiliar to the audience. Johnstone continues with a presentation of the model of communicative functions developed by Roman Jakobson. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the idea that personal identity can be seen as a result of the (intentional) presentation of self.

    The last chapter presents some more general issues that tie up a number of different, more general, questions. For instance, the idea of discourse analysis as a collection of heuristics is presented again, and the question of the 'location of meaning' is discussed and answered on the basis of the heuristic proposed: it is useful to consider meaning in discourse from all viewpoints possible. Further discussion includes the consideration of discourse as strategy versus as adaptation, language as an object or as a process, and the generality of discourse analyses.

    EVALUATION The book provides, as is apparent from the overview, an introduction to an enormous range of interesting research questions. The reader gets the impression that discourse analysis is an exciting field of research and that she, by using her own intuitions, can take part in discussions of topics of general relevance. The discussion of the huge spectrum of topics presented in the book can necessarily not be very deep, and the reading of the book in a course on discourse analysis should be accompanied by the presentation of additional, more detailed, information on selected research areas and approaches to discourse.

    Navigation through the book has to be chapter by chapter. Johnstone suggests that the six main chapters can be read in any order. However, she asks the reader, because of the heuristic approach, to read all of them. Although each chapter constitutes an argumentation that is coherent, many topics could also be imagined to be found in different contexts. For instance, the model of communicative functions by Jakobson could have been part of a general introductory chapter, and discourse markers are not restricted to matters of speaker purposes either. The index is not always of help since it only presents the more extensively discussed topics. Likewise, the glossary, though the definitions are presented in an easily comprehensible way, constitutes a very restricted selection.

    The material to be analysed in the discussion questions is usually very interesting and highly motivating. Sometimes, however, the information necessary to solve a task is presented very briefly in the question itself, and often not in sufficient detail that a question could really be solved on the basis of the information previously presented. Some questions are so difficult to solve that inexperienced readers, if left alone with them, could be left with the impression that linguistics is just too difficult for them. Johnstone writes regarding the different levels of difficulty of the discussion questions: "Students and instructors are meant to develop a system for choosing among them" (xii). This indeed seems necessary.

    Altogether, I can recommend the book as the accompanying reading in an introductory course on discourse analysis or even applied linguistics if it is supported by additional material and guidance by the instructor.

    REFERENCES Schiffrin, Deborah (1994): Approaches to Discourse. Oxford, Basil Blackwell.

    ABOUT THE REVIEWER Kerstin Fischer teaches English Linguistics at the University of Bremen, Germany. In her PhD thesis, she developed a model of the functional polysemy of discourse particles. Currently, she works on linguistic aspects of human-computer and human-robot communication. Her research interests lie in the areas emotionality in human-computer communication, register theory, recipient design, and the role of context in the interaction with artificial communication partners.