Discourse analysis is a method of studying and analyzing a text, be it in written or spoken form. This method does not really analyze a text when it comes to its structure and syntax, but the meaning behind these sentences; hence, the approach is often described as going “beyond the sentence.” Not only is discourse analysis a useful method in the field of linguistics, but is also applied in other areas such as social studies, psychology, and anthropology.
As the word “discourse” suggests, the method of discourse analysis focuses on any text that can provoke any kind of discourse, a response of any sort. In this way, it broadens the range of topics and subjects an analyst can use, such as in medical journals, newspaper articles, and even a president’s speech or a casual conversation. Take, for example, the medical journal: as the writer conveys his message through the book, the reader, in turn, responds by either understanding the words or ignoring it. In this way, discourse analysis looks further than the text by discovering what response, or discourse, the written word can incite and why.
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It may also look at the structure and pattern of a text, but only in order to examine why such patterns are chosen by the speaker. Such as in a politician’s speech, an analyst can focus on why politically-correct terms such as “economically-disadvantaged” replace the word “poor.” Even the little nuances such as how long a pause is in between sentences can convey a meaning or illicit a response. In this way, an analysis such as this also takes into consideration the context of the text and the environment where it was placed.
The aim and the end result of a discourse analysis may not always be to give specific answers to a problem. By exploring a subject, it gives a newer and wider perspective on the issue and exposes the little implications that are hidden behind the words. It then leaves the readers to decide on how to respond to the analysis and ultimately make their own discourse. In a nutshell, discourse analysis does not answer, but interprets.
The method of discourse analysis has been used as far back as the 1950s. It has become useful in studying language as a tool for social interaction. One prominent French theorist, Michel Foucault, even used the method to determine how people use a discourse to attain “power.”