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Review of  Discourse Analysis

Reviewer: Kerstin Fischer
Book Title: Discourse Analysis
Book Author: Barbara Johnstone
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 13.726

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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

'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.

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

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

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.

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.

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

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.


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