LINGUIST List 22.2189

Tue May 24 2011

Review: Applied Linguistics; Discourse Analysis: Gee (2010)

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        1.     Mariza Georgalou , How to do Discourse Analysis: A Toolkit

Message 1: How to do Discourse Analysis: A Toolkit
Date: 24-May-2011
From: Mariza Georgalou <>
Subject: How to do Discourse Analysis: A Toolkit
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AUTHOR: James Paul GeeTITLE: How to do Discourse Analysis: A ToolkitPUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)YEAR: 2010

Mariza Georgalou, Department of Linguistics and English Language, LancasterUniversity


It goes without saying that discourse -- especially within the last twenty yearsor so -- has acquired enormous significance due to two concurrent developments(cf. Jaworski and Coupland 2006: 3-6). On the one hand, there is a shift inepistemology whereby language plays an instrumental role in how knowledge istheorized and construed. On the other hand, the mission of linguistics, which isto explore knowledge-making processes, has been broadened to include socialissues in addition to just describing grammatical phenomena. Counting in themarketization of language deriving from the rise of capitalist economies alongwith the rapid growth in communications media, we can easily deduce whydiscourse analysis (henceforth DA) has become an almost autonomous scientificarea of academic study.

''How to do Discourse Analysis: A Toolkit'' is a follow-up to Gee's seminal ''AnIntroduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method (1st ed. 1999; 2nd ed.2005). Yet, it should be highlighted right from the beginning that despite beingsupplementary to each other, these books can also function independently, in thesense that the first one elucidates the necessary theoretical background,whereas the most recent one is more practically-oriented with a view to invitingreaders to engage in their own DA, implementing a proposed set of ''how-to''instructions.

Integrating principles from applied linguistics, education, anthropology,psychology and communication, Gee has conceived a unique approach according towhich DA is the study of language-in-use, that is, how language is deployed notjust to say things but also to do things in the social, cultural and politicalarenas. In the present work, his research programme is demystified in four unitsby dint of 27 tools -- namely specific questions to ask of data -- for doing DA.Let us unfold them one by one.

In unit 1, ''Language and Context'', the author defines 'context' as:

''[T]he physical setting in which the communication takes place and everything init; the basics, eye gaze, gestures and movements of those present; what haspreviously been said and done by those involved in the communication; any sharedknowledge those involved have, including shared cultural knowledge''.

Having the definition above as a point of departure, Gee introduces the firstsix tools.

TOOL 1: THE DEIXIS TOOL = How deictic expressions (personal pronouns, time andspace adverbials) tie speech and writing to context.

TOOL 2: THE FILL IN TOOL = Knowledge, assumptions and inferences thatlisteners/readers have to bring to communication.

TOOL 3: THE MAKING STRANGE TOOL = In any communication, listeners/readers shouldtry to act as if they were outsiders.

TOOL 4: THE SUBJECT TOOL = How subjects are chosen and what speakers/writerschoose to say about them.

TOOL 5: THE INTONATION TOOL = How a speaker's pitch contour contributes to themeaning of an utterance.

TOOL 6: THE FRAME PROBLEM TOOL = Discourse analysts should make allowances forall aspects of context they regard as relevant to the meaning of the data.

Unit 2, ''Saying, Doing, and Designing'', looks at how language, apart from beingused to convey information, can perform different functions and createcircumstances in the world. The toolkit here includes the following:

TOOL 7: THE DOING AND NOT JUST SAYING TOOL = Attention should not only be paidto what speakers/writers say but also what they try to do.

TOOL 8: THE VOCABULARY TOOL = The types of words that are being used (contentwords; function words; informal words in everyday texts; formal words inspecialist contexts, etc.).

TOOL 9: WHY THIS WAY AND NOT THAT WAY TOOL = Why speakers/writers build anddesign their messages in a certain way and not in some other way.

TOOL 10: THE INTEGRATION TOOL = How clauses are integrated or packaged intoutterances or sentences.

TOOL 11: THE TOPIC AND THEMES TOOL = What the topic and theme is in a sentence(unmarked if it is usual; marked if it is unusual).

TOOL 12: THE STANZA TOOL = Look for groups of idea units and how they clusterinto larger chunks of information.

Unit 3, ''Building Things in the World'', starts by paying tribute to thereflexive property of context to shape language but also be shaped by it. Therelevant tool for exploring the property at hand says:

TOOL 13: THE CONTEXT IS REFLEXIVE TOOL = What speakers/writers say/write and howthey replicate, transform or change content either consciously or unconsciously.

Harking back to the definition of context, Gee argues that that our worlds arebuilt and rebuilt not only via language but in consonance with other actions,interactions, non-linguistic symbol systems, objects, tools, technologies, waysof thinking, valuing, feeling and believing. He says that whenever we speak orwrite, we constantly cement seven areas of reality: 1) significance, 2)activities, 3) identities, 4) relationships, 5) politics, 6) connections, and 7)sign systems and knowledge. The next tools are inextricably entwined with theseseven building tasks of language:

TOOL 14: THE SIGNIFICANCE BUILDING TOOL = How lexical and grammatical devicesstrengthen or lessen significance (what is chosen to be foregrounded).

TOOL 15: THE ACTIVITIES BUILDING TOOL = What activities are built or enacted bycommunication, what social groups, institutions or cultures support and setnorms for these activities.

TOOL 16: THE IDENTITIES BUILDING TOOL = Ask what socially recognizableidentity/identities the speaker/writer tries to enact or get others torecognize; how the speaker/writer positions others and what identities he or sheinvites them to take up.

TOOL 17: RELATIONSHIPS BUILDING TOOL = How lexical and grammatical nuances buildand sustain relationships among the speaker/writer, other people, social groups,cultures and institutions.

TOOL 18: THE POLITICS BUILDING TOOL = How lexical and grammatical devices areemployed to build social goods and a viewpoint on how social goods are or shouldbe distributed in society.

TOOL 19: THE CONNECTIONS BUILDING TOOL = How words and grammar are used toconnect or disconnect things or ignore connections between things. Suchconnections are fashioned by means of cohesive devices (pronouns, determinersand quantifiers, substitution, ellipsis, lexical cohesion, conjunction,adjunctive adverbs).

Tools 20 and 22, then, come as indispensable corollaries.

TOOL 20: THE COHESION TOOL = How cohesion works in text to connect pieces ofinformation and in what ways.

TOOL 21: THE SIGN SYSTEMS AND KNOWLEDGE BUILDING TOOL = The ways in which wordsand grammar privilege or denigrate specific sign systems (languages, dialects,images and other semiotic artefacts).

TOOL 22: THE TOPIC FLOW OR TOPIC CHANGING TOOLS = The topics of main clauses,the ways they are linked to each other to create (or not create) a chain; howspeakers/writers signal they have switched topic.

In unit 4, ''Theoretical Tools'', Gee draws on theories from cognitive psychology,sociolinguistics, literary criticism, psychological anthropology, culturalanthropology, cultural psychology and philosophy to present his last discourseanalytical tools.

TOOL 23: THE SITUATED MEANING TOOL = Specific meanings that listeners/readersattribute to words/phrases given the context and how the context is constructed.Shared experiences and background knowledge are seen as a prerequisite.

TOOL 24: THE SOCIAL LANGUAGES TOOL = How words and grammatical structures cansignal and enact a given social language, that is to say styles or varieties ofa language that are associated with a particular social identity. Thecommunication may blend two or more social languages or switch between two ormore. Conversely, a social language can be composed by words and phrases frommore than one language.

TOOL 25: THE INTERTEXTUALITY TOOL = How lexical and grammatical items can beused to quote, refer to or allude to other ''texts'' or other styles of language.

TOOL 26: THE FIGURED WORLDS TOOL = What figured worlds (namely the unconsciousand taken-for-granted pictures of a simplified world that capture what isconsidered to be typical or normal) the words and phrases of the communicationassume and in turn invite listeners/readers to assume.

TOOL 27: THE BIG ''D'' DISCOURSE TOOL = How the speaker/listener manipulateslanguage and ways of acting, interacting, thinking, believing, valuing, feeling,dressing and using various objects, tools and technologies to enact particularsocial identities and engage in social activities.

This tool is the compendium of Gee's famous distinction between ''discourse'' witha little ''d'' and ''discourse'' with a capital ''D''. The former refers solely tolanguage-in-use whereas the latter implies language plus ''other stuff'', such asbeliefs, ideas, emotions, means, places and so on.

As Gee concludes, irrespective of whether they are going to be adoptedseparately or in combination with one another, these 27 tools must abide by therespective demands of one's study. What is more, a valid discourse analysisneeds to be governed by four quintessential elements:

1) Convergence = The analysis should offer persuasive answers to many or all ofthe questions arising from the set of the 27 tools.

2) Agreement = ''Native speakers'' of the social languages in the data and''members'' of the Discourses implicated in the data should agree with the analysis.

3) Coverage = The analysis should be applicable to related sorts of data.

4) Linguistic details = The analysis should be tied tightly to details oflinguistic structure.


''How to do Discourse Analysis: A Toolkit'' should not be seen as a mere textbookfor undergraduate students in linguistics, but as an essential guide highlyrecommended to researchers in social sciences and a range of professions dealingwith written, spoken or multimodal texts. Put more broadly, it addresses allthose who endorse Gee's (2005) statement that ''we are creatures of language''. Acommendable feature of the book is that it assumes no prior exposure tolinguistics since it offers a neat theory of language-in-use rife with lengthyanalyses and a systematic method of research.

More precisely, the author applies his DA approach to both speech and writing,recognizing them as two different systems of communication with equal status(cf. Sifianou 2001: 25). Interestingly, all 27 tools can also be utilized forthe analysis of static and moving images, paintings, videogames, ads, films,music -- multimodal texts by and large. And although the toolkit was devisedwith English data in mind, it may be adjusted and applied to any given language.

In order to get readers involved in their own DA, Gee offers copious textualsamples touching upon various social, institutional and educational issues. Thebook is also fortified by grammar interludes, based on Hallidayan systemicfunctional grammar (Halliday 1994; Halliday and Hasan 1985), which explainfundamental structures from scratch. Furthermore, at the end of each section,there are lists with further reading suggestions for those who wish to plumbdiscourse mechanics.

Notwithstanding, all these theoretical tenets and practical tasks would be of novalue at all if it was not for Gee's refreshing honesty; from the very firstpages, he posits that no one theory is universally right or applicable. DA is anempirical enterprise and therefore being wrong in our hypothesis is not a crime.On the contrary, if our claims are clear and interesting enough to be tested, itis conducive to further inquiry as well as further evidence gathering. In Gee'swords: ''The purpose [of this book] has not been to get you to stop here andbelieve me. It is to prepare you to read further, confront other perspectivesand reflect on your own views'' (p. 186).

DA is not an endeavour destined to suffocate within the boundaries oflinguistics. It is, above all, a human task that challenges us to think deeplyabout the meanings we attach to other people's words in order to make ourselvesbetter and the world a more humane place (cf. Gee 2005).


Gee, J. P. (2005) An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method. 2nded. London: Routledge.

Halliday, M.A.K. (1994) Introduction to Functional Grammar. 2nd ed. London:Edward Arnold.

Halliday, M.A.K. and Hasan, R. (1985) Language, Context, and Text: Aspects ofLanguage in a Social-semiotic Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jaworski, A. and Coupland, N. (2006) ''Introduction: Perspectives on DiscourseAnalysis''. In A. Jaworski and N. Coupland (eds.) The Discourse Reader. 2nd ed.London: Routledge. 1-38.

Sifianou, M. (2001) Discourse Analysis: An Introduction. Athens: Leader Books.


Mariza Georgalou is a graduate of the Faculty of English Studies, Department of Language and Linguistics, University of Athens, Greece (2005). She holds an MA (with Honours) in Language Studies from Lancaster University, UK (2006), where she is currently a PhD student in linguistics. Her areas of interest include [new] media discourse, [critical] discourse analysis, social semiotics, digital literacies and online ethnography. She works as a copy editor at the technology magazine PC Magazine (Greek edition).

Page Updated: 24-May-2011