Schiffrin, Deborah, Deborah Tannen, and Heidi E. Hamilton, eds. (2001).
The Handbook of Discourse Analysis. Blackwell Publishers, xx+851pp,
hardback ISBN 0-631-20595-0, $124.95, Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics.
Harry M. Klomp, unaffiliated scholar (Australia).
[For another review of this book, see
DESCRIPTION OF BOOK: A total of forty one articles are included in this
volume, grouped into four major categories:
1) Discourse Analysis and Linguistics
2) The Linking of Theory and Practice in Discourse Analysis
3) Discourse: Language, Context and Interaction
4) Discourse Across Disciplines
The third category contains approximately twice as many articles as any
one of the other three categories and is further divided into two
A) Political, Social, and Institutional Domains
B) Culture, Community, and Genre
In presenting this volume to the wider academic community, the
publishers had high hopes: "The articles collected in [this book]
comprise a foundational paradigm for discourse...[The book] makes
significant contributions to current research and serves as a
comprehensive and authoritative guide to the central issues in
discourse analysis" (from the dust jacket).
OVERALL RECOMMENDATION: Recommended-Highly Recommended. This volume
answers to its description as a 'handbook' (although not altogether
unambiguously, and perhaps not in quite the same sense as this term is
normally used). Taken together, the various contributions manifest the
enormous diversity that characterises discourse analysis; the articles
themselves evince interesting (and frequently unexpected) insights into
the use of language and so serve to stimulate further research. On
average, individual contributions run to approximately 20 pages in
length; the volume as a whole exceeds 800 pages and includes
contributions from more than forty authors. Helpful definitions and
descriptions of key terms and concepts are typically provided by
Overall, a number of important editorial infelicities characterise the
volume; additionally, the coverage of material is not entirely
representative vis-a-vis either the format of the book or the field as
a whole (there are some notable lacunas). In general, however, the
publication is of a high standard.
Audience: Lecturers; researchers; could well be employed as an upper-
level textbook, especially in year-long courses.
Praiseworthy features: Short, succinct articles that are both
informative and academically suggestive; definitions or descriptions of
key terms, judicious examples; chapter-by-chapter bibliographies;
comprehensive main index (34 pages).
Poor features: The structural framework of the book is tenuous and
unimaginative (the assignment of articles under different rubrics is
often artificial and/or forced); too few articles dealing with the
relationship between grammar and discourse; an over-emphasis on
specific study areas (politics, health, the media, etc.); scant
attention paid to the use of discourse in intercultural situations and
in non-English contexts.
OVERALL ANALYSIS: In what is no doubt a reflection of the editors'
determination that the book portray something of the enormous diversity
found in the emerging discipline of discourse analysis, no less than 50
authors have contributed to the volume, with no single author
contributing more than once. This is a most commendable feature of the
book. It is also praiseworthy that although the editors all hail from
the same university (Georgetown), and from the same department
(linguistics), it is clear that they have sought to embrace a 'broad
church' mentality in the production of this volume, commendably
eschewing a chauvinistic, narrowly theoretical, or discipline-selective
The large number of articles in this book makes a chapter-by-chapter
review of this publication unfeasible, and I instead propose to briefly
discuss - in overall fashion - each of the four major sections of the
book (beginning with the editors' Introduction).
INTRODUCTION: The 10-page preface sets out the purpose of the Handbook
and its organizational structure. The opening question 'What is
Discourse Analysis?' is, of course, unanswerable until the notion of
'discourse' itself is defined - a task that would seem inherently
incapable of being satisfactorily addressed (or at least, not until
such time as its apparently endless manifestations can be appropriately
circumscribed). As the editors note, "This is the curse of discourse:
the directions in which its meanings may fan out are limitless." But as
they also note, the great diversity in the field is a strength, not a
weakness, and their goal in producing the volume was a modest one: "We
hope to offer a comprehensive sense of the scope and possibilities of
discourse analysis...We have tried to provide a starting point from
which the major highways emanate."
The introduction is light, easy to read, and of an appropriate length;
it gives the impression of an agreeable 'everyone-is-welcome'
invitation. The suggestion of serendipity is no doubt enhanced by the
fact that the editors devote several pages to personal biography
describing how they (each) came to be interested in discourse analysis.
Yet although this (latter) material is - in one sense - refreshing (and
no doubt consonant with what the editors regarded as the raison d'�tre
of the volume), I personally found it distracting and of dubious value
in a book of this nature. The three contributions were decorous and
modest; nevertheless, I could not help but question their
appropriateness. They could, I think, have been safely omitted.
I was disappointed that the editors employed (in the conclusion to this
introductory section) an illustration first given by Charles Fillmore
to capture what they (the editors) regard as the overall sense of
discourse analysis. Without repeating the example, I would criticise it
on two grounds: first, that a non-English speaker may not immediately
grasp the nuance upon which it depends for its effect; and second, that
people from different cultures might well find it offensive. But even
leaving these specific criticisms aside, it is my opinion that the
employment of illustrations like this somehow detracts from the
nobility, dignity, and weightiness of an academic volume of this nature
(a more suitable example could surely have been found). I personally
found the illustration to be (at best) injudicious and inappropriate.
DISCOURSE ANALYSIS AND LINGUISTICS: A very interesting and helpful
section that is, of course, only representative of what could have been
included in a volume of this nature. The editors have sought to capture
the broad range of linguistic interest in discourse (but see below) by
including articles focussing on areas such as prosody, semantics and
typology. The material is generally weighty and the examples cited by
the various authors are (in the main) judicious.
There is, in this section of the book, an underlying endorsement of the
value of inductive research in discourse analysis and a recognition of
the need for different ways of thinking about the analysis of language;
this was very pleasing to note (cf., for example, Couper-Kuhlen's
contribution on intonation and Myhill's article on typology). It was
disappointing, however, to find that there was not a much greater
recognition of the distinction between spoken and written discourse and
of the need to treat their respective analyses as two distinct fields.
Although the editors were obviously limited by space considerations,
this is something that (in my opinion) should have been given priority.
There is, further, an unfortunate dearth of references to the grammar
of language as this relates to discourse structure; as Halliday (1994)
makes clear, however, the supposed 'linguistic' analysis of text
without reference to the grammar of a language is an illusion.
In this section, an outline of linguistic theories/approaches dealing
with discourse might have been appropriate (although this lack might be
obviated to some extent if the book were to be used in conjunction with
Schiffrin's 'Approaches to Discourse Analysis'). I noticed only a
couple of typographical/grammatical mistakes but they were prominent
enough to suggest that they should have been picked up by the editors:
'So not only was intonation some thirty years ago a linguistic citizen
with dubious qualifications, if any at all.' (p. 14); 'herolding' (for
'heralding,' p. 85).
THE LINKING OF THEORY AND PRACTICE IN DISCOURSE ANALYSIS: This section
comprises eight exceptional articles; for the researcher interested in
the linguistic analysis of discourse (pragmatics; corpus analysis;
transcription), these contributions will prove very helpful. They are,
for the most part, easy to read (if not winsome: cf. Robin Lakoff's
article on apologies); all are weighty.
Editorially, however, it is unfortunate that the focus of this section
is restricted in its application. Given that the third and forth
sections deal with the employment of discourse in social and cultural
settings and with the study of discourse across (other) disciplines, it
might have been appropriate for this section to include articles on the
practicalities of discourse analysis for researchers seeking to proceed
from a non-linguistic base. Personally, I thought that this section
could have been larger (the third section could have been reduced in
DISCOURSE: LANGUAGE, CONTEXT, AND INTERACTION: Comprising sixteen
articles (divided - somewhat artificially - into two sections), this
part of the book is (again) extremely interesting. The crucial role of
discourse in the context of society and social institutions is
carefully articulated by researchers from a wide variety of
Unfortunately, the large number of articles comprehended under this
general rubric gives the volume as a whole a somewhat 'top-heavy' feel.
It would have been better, I think, if only a sample of these articles
had been included in keeping with the format of the remainder of the
book. The inclusion of two articles relating to the same general area
(Medicine: Ainsworth-Vaughn; Fleischman) was too much; Van Dijk's
article (Critical Discourse Analysis) obviated to an extent the need
for separate articles on Racism (Wodak and Reisigl); Political
Discourse (Wilson); Gender (Kendall and Tannen); and Conflict (Kakava).
I found it difficult to justify the inclusion of Johnstone's article on
'Narrative' in this section of the book.
DISCOURSE ACROSS DISCIPLINES: Some outstanding contributions are found
in this section; Rom Harre's contribution, 'The Discursive Turn in
Social Psychology' is one of the best articles in the book. It is most
unfortunate, however, that the articles do not 'fit' the rubric
assigned to them by the editors. Thus, for example, whilst Harre's
article certainly demonstrates the relevance of discourse analysis for
the practice of social psychology, it is very difficult to nominate a
unique disciplinary area to which Chafe's article ('The Analysis of
Discourse Flow') might relate. The same is true for Tracy's article
('Discourse Analysis in Communication') as well as the contribution by
Clark and Van Der Wege ('Imagination in Discourse'). Grimshaw's article
('Discourse and Sociology: Sociology and Discourse') relates discourse
to a disciplinary area that is too similar to that discussed by Harre;
Webber's article ('Computational Perspectives on Discourse and Dialog')
might have been better placed in the section dealing with the linking
of theory and practice. The article by Olshtain and Celce-Murcia
('Discourse Analysis and Language Teaching') should also have been
comprehended under this latter rubric.
Overall, the articles in this section give the impression (contrary to
that no doubt intended by the editors) that the application of
discourse analysis is effectively restricted to areas which might be
broadly categorised as 'linguistic' or 'linguistic-related' (perhaps
with the single exception of sociology and social psychology). In
short, the assignment of the rubric 'Discourse Across Disciplines' is
artificial and forced; it seeks to claim something for the study of
discourse that is unwarranted (at least as far as this volume is able
to show), and does not do justice to the character and quality of the
articles contained therein.
SUMMARY: This is a valuable book that will be of benefit to
instructors, researchers and students. Almost without exception, the
articles are of an exceptionally high standard; it is a great pity,
therefore, that the editors (or publishers) were not more accountable
to their contributors. Overall, one gets the impression that the
editors did not have an altogether clear view of where they wanted to
go with this book: having assembled a collection of articles related to
'discourse' (but even then not fully representational; the term
'handbook' must be used with some discretion), they were then faced
with the task of appropriately classifying the material. Unfortunately,
the fit is far from perfect; although some articles answer to the
rubric under which they have been comprehended, a large number do not.
This dubious categorial assignment somehow serves to denigrate the
individual and collective value of what are otherwise (and on the
whole) marvelous individual contributions.
Positively, perhaps the highest praise for this book is that, even if a
person has no interest in discourse analysis, they will undoubtedly be
drawn in by the nature of the material contained herein. The
contributions are interesting, diverse and stimulating; together, they
infuse enthusiasm for what will no doubt be a most fruitful area of
research in years to come.
Halliday, M. A. K. (1994) An Introduction to Functional Grammar.
London: Edward Arnold.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Harry Klomp is an unaffiliated scholar who most recently taught at
Monash University (Melbourne, Australia). His main linguistic interests
are in discourse analysis, Turkish grammar, syntax, and ESL pedagogy.