A discourse community is generally defined as a community of people who use a particular kind of language or discourse. Many different examples of discourse communities illustrate how versatile this term is. It can describe a group of people who have common interests, or a group of highly trained scientists or technicians. Any set of people using a common language can be described as a discourse community.
The idea of the discourse community provides a kind of intersection between linguistics and anthropology or related social sciences. In academic programs, instructors may give students tasks related to analyzing these communities, either to research the actual discourse for linguistics, or to analyze the way that language reflects the makeup of a community. Students often start by identifying the community that uses a kind of discourse, then go on to figure out what that common language means and why it is used.
Some idiomatic words help to define the kind of common language that is used in a discourse community. Words like “jargon” or “lingo” accurately describe sets of words that are used within one of these common communities. Other more specific idiomatic terms, such as “techno-babble” or “geek speak,” provide examples of how people informally analyze a discourse community revolving around information technology.
Another example of a discourse-using community is a set of readers of a particular scientific or academic journal. Some other kinds of words may be used to describe the people involved in these professional or intellectual communities. In some cases, examples of these words in English are borrowed from other languages like Italian or Latin, for example: cognoscenti or literati.
In cases where discourse communities are less formal, it may be harder to pin down the common language that marks them as a cohesive unit. One common example is a set of fans of a certain celebrity, whether it is an athlete, a musical performer, or an actor. Outsiders can often identify some of this common language as related to “inside knowledge” or uncommon familiarity with the details of the celebrity’s life, family, or surroundings.
English speakers have even coined words for cases where certain kinds of inside knowledge are shared between people. For example, when those involved in a certain industry or field use specific kinds of language based on an elite understanding of that field, it is often referred to by others as “inside baseball.” This idiomatic phrase basically means the speakers are communicating with one another from a specific privileged perspective that may not be shared by outsiders.