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Review of  An Introduction to Discourse Analysis

Reviewer: Patricia E. Zoltan
Book Title: An Introduction to Discourse Analysis
Book Author: James Paul Gee
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 16.2452

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Date: Fri, 19 Aug 2005 11:33:21 +0930
From: Patricia Zoltan
Subject: An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method

AUTHOR: Gee, James Paul
TITLE: An Introduction to Discourse Analysis
SUBTITLE: Theory and Method
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2005

Patricia Zoltan, Centre for Learning and Professional Development,
The University of Adelaide, South Australia


James Paul Gee's An Introduction to Discourse Analysis (2005) is the
second, revised edition of the author's 1999 volume with the same
title. Gee integrates theories of language, learning, and social practice
in his book, which is a useful resource for students, researchers and a
general audience because it is easy to follow and written in a highly
accessible and enjoyable style. The author's work on language takes
a socio-cognitive and socio-cultural approach incorporating
perspectives from a number of fields including applied linguistics,
psychology, education, anthropology and communication. An
Introduction to Discourse Analysis covers both a theory and a method
of research, which are showcased through several examples in the
newly added chapters (Chapter 9,10,11). There are 11 chapters in
the book. Chapter 1 is the Introduction, Chapter 2-6 provide theories,
Chapter 7 sketches out the method to discourse analysis while
Chapter 8 gives more linguistic details. Chapter 9-11 give examples of
discourse analysis to demonstrate in practice a few of the tools
discussed in the book.


Chapter 1: Introduction
The first chapter, as the title indicates, is an introduction to the book
where the author lays down the foundation for the further chapters.
According to Gee language is not only to be seen as a tool to
communicate information but also to support social activities, social
identities and affiliations within cultures and institutions. As the author
claims in the first chapter, his book is an introduction to one approach
to discourse analysis among many others and it aims at balancing talk
about the mind, social interactions and talk about society and
institutions. Gee also offers a specific method to investigate all these
by offering several tools of inquiry or as the author calls them "thinking
devices". In the introduction the author also explains what he means
by Discourse (with a block capital "D") and discourse (with lower
case "d"). Gee defines discourse (with a little "d") as "language-in-
use", i.e. language used on site through which activities and identities
are enacted but according to the author activities are not just enacted
through language, therefore Discourse (with a big "D") is a much
wider concept where non-language elements also influence
individuals. So, the author argues that language must be analysed as
it is fully integrated with all the elements that appear in social practice.

Chapter 2: Building tasks
"Language has a magical property", claims the author in Chapter 2,
because when we speak or write we can design and build what we
have to say as it is suitable to a particular situation. In other words, we
create the situation but the situation also influences us in terms of how
we speak. Gee identifies seven "building tasks", i.e. areas of reality
that we construct when we speak or write, because we use language
to make things significant (building task 1), as we give them meaning
or value. Language is also used when we want to get recognised in a
certain kind of activity (building task 2) or in other words, through
language certain activities get enacted. Building task 3 is to form an
identity through language. For example we all have various
professional, social and private roles and we speak and write as these
identities require us to do. We also use language to signal our
relationships (building task 4) that we have or would want to have:
e.g. listener, speaker or reader. Language is also used to convey a
perspective on the nature of distribution of goods, or politics (building
task 5), where language is being communicated as to what is taken
as "correct", "good", "appropriate" or "the way things ought to be'. We
also use language to render certain things connected (building task 6)
and last but not least language can privilege or disprivilege specific
sign systems or ways of knowing, e.g. English over other languages,
or technical language over everyday language use. Sign systems and
ways of knowing constitute "building task 7". To demonstrate how
these building tasks operate in reality, Chapter 2 provides a valuable
example of discourse analysis to uncover the seven building blocks on
a small piece of data taken from a larger corpus.

Chapter 3: Tools of inquiry and discourses
This section of the book deals with the tools of inquiry that are
relevant in building identities and activities and also for recognising
identities and activities that others build. These tools are social
languages, discourses, intertextuality and conversations. With the
author's terminology, social languages are varieties of the same
language used in different settings among certain groups. People use
not only language but other elements outside of the realm of language
in order to engage themselves in activities. We have to speak
the "right way" if we want to get accepted in a particular group.
Therefore as mentioned above, Gee differentiates between discourse
(with a "little d") and Discourse (with a "big D"). Intertextuality is a sort
of cross reference to words said or written while by conversations the
author means something else in addition to intertextuality. When we
talk and write we often do not just relate to someone else's words but
to themes or motifs that are the focus of a certain social group. These
themes and motifs play an important role in how language is
interpreted. For example, current social conversations these days are
terrorism or global warming. Conversation with a "big C" refers to a
debate according to the author.

Also in Chapter 3 the author further describes the "big D" Discourse.
The two main points of Discourse analysis are, who we are speaking
or writing to and what we are doing. For example one might project a
different identity at a formal dinner party as opposed to a casual family
dinner. The key to Discourses according to Professor Gee
is "recognition". We are recognised by others as particular identities or
types who are engaged in a particular type of activity because we
know how we can perform in different situations by attuning our words
and actions. New Discourses emerge as old ones die out. The author
illustrates his points through a lot of valuable and enjoyable examples.
At the end of Chapter 3 a useful box also provides a brief set of points
about Discourses.

Chapter 4: Social languages, conversations and intertextuality
This section of the book further develops the previously explained
tools of inquiry: "social languages", "intertextuality"
and "conversations". The author argues in the previous chapter that
when we analyse language-in-use, we need to study more than just
language alone, we need to focus on Discourses with all the added
elements also described in the previous chapter. Chapter 4 introduces
the idea of social languages in more detail. The starting point for this
is the "who is doing what" when something is communicated but as the
author makes it quite clear "social languages" are different from
Discourses. The term "social languages" is used to designate the role
of language in Discourses, while Discourses as the author
emphasises throughout his book, involve much more than just
language and these additional elements must also be examined when
we analyse Discourses, for example, among other things, values,
themes and motifs. Professor Gee also argues that each social
language has its own distinctive grammars that he calls "grammar 1"
and "grammar 2". The former one is the traditional set of units like
nouns, verbs, phrases, etc while the latter grammar is the set of rules
by which grammatical units, like nouns and verbs create patterns,
which with another term from linguistics we can call "collocational
patterns". Through several illustrative examples the author brings the
above mentioned points home. Chapter 4 ends with a box of
questions the discourse analyst can ask about a piece of language.

Chapter 5: Situated meanings and discourse models
The author argues in Chapter 5 that meanings of words are not
general but words have specific meanings in different contexts of use
and also they vary across certain social and cultural groups. Through
analysing several everyday life examples Gee demonstrates how
specific meanings function in various contexts. Chapter 5 also gives
an overview of the human mind, how it works as a rule-following and a
pattern-recognising device and also how children learn to
contextualise meanings of words. In this chapter the readers also get
a good introduction on "cultural models", models the author himself
tends to call Discourses (with a "big D"). The author argues that
meaning is an active and also a social process. Through many good
everyday examples Gee provides his readers with a wide range of
illustrative cases. Chapter 5 ends with a box of commonly asked
questions in discourse analysis.

Chapter 6: Discourse models
This chapter deals with discourse models in more depth, i.e. the
unconscious theories all of us hold to make sense of the world.
Discourse models are important tools of inquiry as they mediate
between the micro-level interactions and the macro-level of
institutions. The author encourages his readers to look beyond
examples from their own culture and brings in language-in-action
examples from other cultures, e.g. Mexican, in order to figure out
situated meanings. Through analysing everyday examples that come
from his own research, the author demonstrates how Discourse
models and social class are connected, how social and political issues
are implicated in the study of Discourse models. It also gets proven
that people can have allegiance to competing and conflicting
Discourse models, e.g. one powerful social group can influence a less
powerful group through Discourse models. The question of validity
also gets to be mentioned in this chapter, which is examined in more
detail in Chapter 7.

Chapter 7: Discourse analysis
In Chapter 7 the author integrates all those tools of inquiry that he
discussed in the previous sections of the book and also
introduces "reflexivity" as the "magical property" of language, which he
briefly mentioned at the outset of Chapter 2. By "reflexivity" the author
means how language creates as well as reflects the contexts in which
it is used. In Chapter 7 more details are also discussed about the
previously analysed seven building tasks that are used in order to
build situations by using language. An entire sub-point is devoted to
transcripts in Chapter 7. As discourse analysis is based on the details
of speech or writing, the issue of transcripts is fairly important. The
author provides several examples of transcript analysis in this section.
At the end of Chapter 7 the author summarises the components of
an "ideal" discourse analysis as: convergence, agreement, coverage
and linguistic details. A detailed description of all these components as
well as twenty-six essential questions about the seven building tasks
are provided in Chapter 7 for discourse analysis. The author
encourages the analyst to use the 26 questions in order to establish
situated meanings but he also warns his readers that the method he
developed in this book is not intended at all as a set of rules that must
be rigorously followed. Professor Gee offers Chapter 9, 10 and 11 as
illustrative examples of how his method of discourse analysis works
but before these chapters he talks about processing and organising
language in Chapter 8.

Chapter 8: Processing and organising language
This section deals with some aspects of how language is planned and
Discourse analysis, the author claims, is a reciprocal and cyclical
process where the analyst focuses on the structure of a piece of
language and the situated meanings it is attempting to build about
identities and relationships, and in general about the world. The
author further explains that speech is produced in small "spurts", i.e.
speech units that we need to analyse. In Chapter 8 Gee deals with a
few technical details about the structure of sentences and of
discourse. Through several everyday examples (e.g. story fragments
told by children) the author shows how his methods work. The next
three chapters of his book provide more examples of discourse

Chapter 9: Sample of discourse analysis
This chapter deals with data analysis in order to exemplify some of the
tools of inquiry the author discussed in his book. The author states at
the beginning of this chapter that he by no means attempts any full
discourse analysis, rather he simply wants to give some examples
relevant to some of the points that he raised in previous chapters of
his book. The data he uses in Chapter 9 comes from interviews his
research team recorded with American middle-school teenagers.
These interviews take on a specific form. First the students were
asked about their lives ("life-part" of interview) and then about societal
issues ("society part" of interview). Detailed analyses are provided on
certain fragments of the interviews in Chapter 9.

Chapter 10: Sample of discourse analysis 2
This section of the book offers a case study by taking a closer look at
one of the students in the research cohort, the girl they
named "Sandra". Certain parts of her interview are transcribed and
analysed in Chapter 9 by using building task 6 and 7, "connection
building" and "sign systems and knowledge", respectively. This
chapter allows the reader some insights again how Gee's approach
and method to discourse analysis works in reality.

Chapter 11: Sample of discourse analysis 3
For the final sample of discourse analysis the author turns back to
some data that he discussed in Chapter 2. Gee's intention here again
is to show some of the sorts of questions that can be used in
analysing data with his building tasks and tools of inquiry he

Following Chapter 11 a useful Appendix can be found in the book
about grammar in communication, A1 about clauses and participants:
the experiential function, A2 about grammatical relations: the
interpersonal function, A3 about ordering: the textual function, A4
about relating clauses: the logical function and A5 about cohesion.


James Paul Gee's An Introduction to Discourse Analysis is a unique
volume in the wide range of professional literature on discourse
analysis, because while it is written with great professional expertise, it
is also a highly enjoyable read that can reach out to a wide audience.
From undergraduate students to fellow colleagues and researchers
this volume has a lot to offer. The book presents the author's
approach and method in a clear and concise way. The main merits of
the book are its many real life examples and the "hands-on" advice
the author gives to discourse analysts in a way that is equally valuable
to the novice and the expert analysts alike. Finally there is one more
point that needs to be mentioned again as the biggest appeal of this
book, namely the author's refreshing style and good sense of humour,
which makes reading and learning so enjoyable. There is no doubt
that James Paul Gee's An Introduction to Discourse Analysis will
appear on lists of recommended textbooks worldwide and students
and lecturers will use it for their courses.


Patricia Zoltan teaches workshop sessions in the area of academic
literacy at the University of Adelaide and as a doctoral candidate of
the same university researches academic writing. Patricia's research
interests lie in the area of discourse analysis, language awareness
and genre-specific writing.

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