"In this book, Richard Kern explores how technology matters to language and the ways in which we use it. Kern reveals how material, social and individual resources interact in the design of textual meaning, and how that interaction plays out across contexts of communication, different situations of technological mediation, and different moments in time."
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 produced. 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 analysis.
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 developed.
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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
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.