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Review of  Introduction to Discourse Studies

Reviewer: Guowen Huang
Book Title: Introduction to Discourse Studies
Book Author: Jan Renkema
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 16.1220

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Date: Mon, 11 Apr 2005 07:52:29 +0800
From: Guowen Huang
Subject: Introduction to Discourse Studies

AUTHOR: Renkema, Jan
TITLE: Introduction to Discourse Studies
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2004

Guowen Huang, School of Foreign Languages, Sun Yat-sen University, P.R.


This book is based on the author's 1993 book: "Discourse Studies: An
Introductory Textbook", but has incorporated new ideas in the field which
had come into being in the past decade. It aims to provide students of
discourse studies with a "scientific toolkit" for introductory courses at
university level and to serve as a stepping stone to the independent study
of the discipline. The book is made up of an introductory chapter and four
theme parts which are made up of 14 chapters. This book provides more
than 300 source references and explains about 500 basic concepts
concerning discourse studies. There are more than 100 questions following
the 15 chapters, and a key to the questions is provided at the end of the


Chapter 1: Introduction
The first chapter describes (1) the definition of discourse studies, (2)
the aim and structure of the book, and (3) the presentation of the
material used in the book. The author states that "discourse studies is
the discipline to the investigation of the relationship between form and
function in verbal communication" and uses this definition as the point of
departure for discussing discourse studies. The aim of the book is to
familiarize students with important concepts and major issues in discourse
studies. The author believes that knowledge of the basic concepts will
serve as a "scientific toolkit" for students of discourse studies. The
organization of the following 14 chapters is based on the assumption that
the prospective student of discourse studies will undertake a scientific
journey along this line of ordering. In terms of the material in the
book, the author explains why special attention is paid to the origins of
key concepts, to classic or impressive landmarks in discourse studies, and
to approaches upon which contemporary developments are based.

Part I. General orientation
In this part there are two chapters which deal with "Communication as
action" (Chapter 2) and "Discourse in communication" (Chapter 3)
respectively, which together present a general orientation towards the
field of discourse studies. Chapter 2 aims to address questions such
as "What is verbal communication?", "What are the principles governing the
use of language?" and "What are the strategies that are brought to bear
when people communicate?" These questions are answered in sections which,
respectively, discuss (1) Karl Bühler's Organon model (1934/1990), (2)
speech act theory formulated from scholars such as John Austin, John
Searle, and Jürgen Habermas (1981), (3) illocutions in discourse, (4) Paul
Grice's cooperative principle, (5) the relevance theory of Dan Sperber and
Deirdre Wilson, and (6) the politeness theory based on research by Erving
Goffman, and Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson. These sections are
written with the aim to encourage the prospective student to think of what
verbal communication is about.

Chapter 3 examines discourse situation in which communication takes
places. Different approaches to discourse studies are reviewed, with the
pragmatic approach and the Hallidayan Systemic Functional approach (which
is termed as "the socio-semiotic approach") being discussed in detail, and
issues such as "rules for symbolic interaction", "messages between sender
and receiver" and "the discourse situation also receive detailed
treatment. This chapters concludes with the discussion on the issue
of "What makes discourse discourse?". The author states that the
Hallidayan approach seems to be the best candidate which offers a good
general framework for analyzing all the different aspects of discourse.

Part II. Backpacking for a scientific journey
There are five chapters in this part, which are Chapter 4 (Discourse
types), Chapter 5 (Structured content), Chapter 6 (Discourse connections),
Chapter 7 (Contextual phenomena) and Chapter 8 (Style). These chapters
provide basic concepts necessary for studying discourse. Chapter 4 begins
with the discussion on the variety of functions and forms, reminding the
reader of the Organon model introduced in Chapter 2 and then reviews Roman
Jakobson's well-known identification of six functions and the various
attempts to classify discourse types. Then it distinguishes between
written language and verbal interaction on the one hand and everyday
language and literary language on the other. The idea of "genre" in
discourse studies is also introduced by reviewing research conducted by
John Swales and Vijay Bhatia. This chapter presents two relatively new
and very important concepts --- electronic discourse and multimodality,
which seemed to be neglected by other similar discourse studies textbooks.

Chapter 5 focuses on approaches to discourse with respect to the
structuring of the message content. It first looks at the concept
of "proposition" and the relations between propositions, which is followed
by the discussion of "topics". The author clearly distinguishes between
discourse topics and sentence topics. The chapter then moves from the
microlevel of propositions to the macrolevel of the discourse, reviewing
Teun van Dijk's concepts of macrostructure and superstructure. In this
chapter three levels of structure are distinguished: (1) the global
structure (the discourse), (2) the mesostructure (the topics), and the
local structure (propositions).

In Chapter 6 the focus is on (formal) ties that connect the elements in
the discourse. The Hallidayan idea of cohesion is first introduced with
discussion on substitution, ellipsis, reference, conjunction and lexical
cohesion. This is followed by a review of discourse relations, semantic
relations, pragmatic relations and rhetorical relations. With the ideas
of discourse relations presented, the author goes on to review the
Rhetorical Structure Theory by William Mann and Sandra Thompson. The
chapter ends with a brief discussion of discourse relation research.

Chapter 7 looks at discourse elements in context from the perspectives of
discourse production and perception. It starts with the concepts
of "deixis" and "staging" in the production and interpretation of
information. Then it goes on to discuss the ideas of perspectivization
(which is concerned with the presentation of information in the discourse)
under three headings: vision, focalization, and empathy. This is followed
by a review of the management of given-new information which is concerned
with the knowledge on the addressee that is shared or assumed by the
participants in the discourse. This chapters ends with a brief discussion
on "presupposition" and "inferences".

The last chapter in this part presents an overview of stylistic variation
in discourse studies. It clarifies basic concepts of "style" and treats
style (1) as a possible form for a specific content, (2) as a choice of
specific patterns and (3) as a deviation from expectations. The chapter
also looks at issues concerning register and summarizes the normative and
the objective approaches to stylistic analysis.

Part III. Special modes of communication
There are four chapters in this part, each of which deals with an
important mode of communication: Conversation analysis (Chapter 9),
Informative discourse (Chapter 10), Narratives (Chapter 11), and
Argumentation and persuasion (Chapter 12). Chapter 9 presents a
sociological way of looking at discourse in communication. As the
analysis of verbal interaction requires a method of written representation
(a transcription system), the chapter begins with the description of both
the score notion developed by Jochem Rehbein (see Ehlich 1993) and the
dramaturgical notation developed by Gail Jefferson. This is followed by
the review of the turn-taking model and the description of the sequential
organization in verbal interaction. The chapter ends with the section on
the analysis of discourse markers.

The focus of Chapter 10 is on four important issues concerning informative
discourse: the readability of information, the measure of understanding,
judgment of discourse quality, and the improvement of documents. The
Flesch's readability formula, the cloze test and Diederich's judgment
model are introduced and illustrated with examples. In terms of the
improvement of documents, the chapter introduces Britt-Louise Gunnarsson's
(1984) study and other scholars' research, which are not yet known to the
general audience.

Chapter 11 deals with approaches to the study of narratives. It starts
with a literary approach, developed by the Russian scholar Vladimir Propp
(e.g. 1968), to the study of the structure of fairy tales, and this is
followed by a review of a sociolinguistic approach by William Labov and
Joshua Waletzky and then a psycholinguistic approach by John Mandler and
Nancy Johnson and others. The last section in this chapter is the
description of another approach which is termed as the organizational

Chapter 12, which is entitled argumentation and persuasion, first looks at
the structure of argumentation and distinguishes between some basic
concepts concerning the identification of data types and warrant types.
Then it reviews and summarizes the pragma-dialectical approach developed
by Frans van Eemeren and Rob Grootendorst (1994) and the social-
psychological approach developed by a number of studies in the field. The
last section of the chapter, based on a number of related studies, is
concerned with the analysis of the quality of argumentation.

Part IV. Special interests
In this last part of the book, there are three chapters (Chapter 13:
Discourse and cognition, Chapter 14: Discourse and institution, and
Chapter 15: Discourse and culture) which deal with three important domains
of discourse studies. Chapter 13 attempts to answer the question of "what
goes on in our minds in producing and understanding discourse" and it
discusses both discourse production and perception. It first reviews two
models of discourse production, the knowledge-telling model (for the
writing process of inexperienced writers) and the knowledge-transforming
model (for the writing process of experienced writers), developed by Carl
Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia (1987), and then the individuo-
environmental model for the writing process developed by J. R. Hayes
(1996). Then the focus shifts to the illustration of product and process
analysis based on research conducted by Kellog Hunt (1970) and others.
Following the discussion on production, it turns to discourse perception
by reviewing Frederic Bartlett's research with a focus on the concept
of "schema". And this is followed by the identification of four premises
(prompted by results of experiments in the past decades) that are
supported in different theories on discourse and cognition. Then a
detailed description of the model of discourse processing for reading
elaborated by Walter Kintsch (1988) is summarized. The chapter concludes
with discussions concerning the question of "what does language reveal
about how we see or understand something in reality".

Taking a sociological perspective, Chapter 14 covers issues concerning
institutional discourse. Using the example of education, it first explains
the concept of "institution" under three headings: role behavior,
differentiation trends, and institutional power. Then, with some key
publications reviewed, the chapter turns to political discourse, legal
discourse, media discourse and two less-known discourse types --
bureaucracy and health care. In this chapter the importance of the role
of situation in discourse is once again emphasized.

The last chapter of this part, which is also the last chapter of the
textbook, deals with issues in discourse studies from a societal
perspective. First, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is reviewed, then
important studies in Critical Discourse Analysis are summarized. This is
followed by discussions on studies of differences between men and women in
interaction, and the results of the studies are interpreted in terms of
gender difference and dominance of men as a class over women. The section
following the discussion of gender in discourse is one that looks at
racism manifested in discourse. These last two issues are rarely looked
at in discourse analysis textbooks. The chapter ends with a section
focusing on intercultural communication, in which two important studies
are reviewed: (1) Geert Hofstede (2001) and Ronald and Suzanne Scollon


As the author states in Chapter 1, the aim of this book is to provide the
prospective student of discourse studies with the most important concepts
and the major issues in the field. My overall impression is a very
positive one. It is well-written and comprehensive. This book is
certainly a welcome and valuable addition to the current literature on
discourse studies. The book presents the concepts, reviews, summaries,
and issues in a clear, concise way. The coverage of topic is impressive
in that topics such as electronic discourse and institutional discourse,
which are not easily found in other textbooks in this field, are discussed
in details in this book. The exercises (questions and assignments) at the
end of each chapter in particular are well presented with good hints and
serve as reminders of important points discussed in each chapter. I feel
that the "Key to the questions" is very helpful for the textbook user.
And the "Bibliographical information" at the end of each chapter and the
references at the end of the book are particularly important and useful.
Similarly, the index at the end of the book, containing about 500 entries,
serves as a good basis for further discourse studies. Apart from these
merits, I have to mention two important points that are characteristic of
this book: (1) Clear descriptions of origins of key concepts in discourse
studies are presented where necessary, and (2) A number of important
studies in the field conducted in Continental Europe are introduced and
reviewed, which have gone unnoticed by scholars who are not able to read
languages other than English. I feel that this book really lives up to
its aim of providing the prospective student with a scientific "toolkit"
in his discourse studies. I would certainly recommend this as the main
textbook on discourse studies/analysis courses.


Bereiter, C. & Scardamalia, M. (1987) The Psychology of Written
Composition. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Bühler, K. (1934/1990) Theory of Language: The Representational Function
of Language. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Eemeren, F. van & Grootendorst, R. (1994) Studies in Pragma-dialectics.
Amsterdam: Sic Sat.

Ehlich, K. (1993) HIAT: A transcription system for discourse data. In J.
Edwards & M. Lampert, eds. Talking Data: Transcription and Coding in
Discourse Research. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 123-148.

Gunnarsson, B. L. (1984) Functional comprehensibility of legislative
texts: Experiments with a Swedish act of parliament. Text, 4, 71-105.

Habermas, J. (1981) Theorie des Kommunikativen Handeln: Bd. 1.
Handelungsrationalität und gesellschaftliche Rationalisierung [The Theory
of Communication Action: Vol. 1. Reason and the Rationalization of
Society]. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Hayes, J. R. (1996) A new framework for understanding cognition and affect
in writing. In C. M. Levy & S. Ransdell, eds. The Science of Writing:
Theories, Methods, Individual Differences, and Applications. Mahwah, NJ:
Erlbaum, 1-27.

Hofstede, G. (2001) Culture's Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors,
Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations. London: Sage.

Hunt, K. (1970) Syntactic maturity in school children and adults.
Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 35, 1-67.

Kintsch, W. (1988) The role of knowledge in discourse comprehension: A
construction-integration model. Psychological Review, 95, 163-182.

Propp, V. (1968) Morphology of the Folktale (2nd edition). Bloomington:
Indiana University.

Renkema, J. (1993) Discourse Studies: An Introductory Textbook. Amsterdam:

Scollon, R. & Scollon, S. (2001) Intercultural Communication. Oxford:


Dr. Guowen Huang is a professor of linguistics at the School of Foreign
Languages, Sun Yat-sen University in China. He is now a Fulbright
visiting scholar attached to Stanford University. His research interests
include Systemic Functional Linguistics, discourse analysis, and
translation studies.