Structure of Discourse

Submitted by admin on Thu, 09/01/2016 - 19:35

Structures and Properties of Discourse (strands, events, levels, etc.)

Discourse may have begun from simple questions, but it has now elaborated into a massive field. I summarise below some of the main current ideas about the nature and structure of discourse (from Jaeger, 2001, pp 46-51)

‘Thematically uniform discourse processes’ are called for simplicity Discourse Strands. In my example, the initial ‘How can we get more food ?’ question has developed into scientific studies of soil fertility, plant breeding, farming techniques, and so on, which are separate strands, and which have many sub-strands – for example the soil fertility strand has further sub-strands on organic techniques, fertilizers, irrigation, water retention, etc.

Some of these are Special Discourses, as they are part of the sciences, others are Inter-Discourses, which are non-scientific (the technical effects of fertilizers on soil chemistry is a special discourse, but the advertising of fertilizers is an inter-discourse)

In this way, we can see that there are many Discourse Fragments – a text on fertilizers may have fragments about soil chemistry and soil micro-organisms, but there might also be discourses about how to use the fertilizers, and of how to open the package and store the contents. Texts can be considered as units of discourse fragments.

However, as we are already seeing, there is Entanglement of Discourse Strands – most texts refer to other strands, using techniques such as comparison, evidence, reinforcement, debate, reflection, and so on. The way the entanglement occurs can also be described as

  • tightly or loosely, 
  • with one or more knots,
  • complex or simple,
  • lightly or heavily.

It seems that entanglement of discourse strands is very common, and it can be expected to occur in almost all circumstances.

Within each fragment of discourse, there are also Themes, and these themes can have a big influence on the text itself

  • Some texts clearly refer to several main themes (with more or less emphasis)
  • Other texts have one main theme and subsidiary references to others (in this section I have a main theme of discourse, with a subsidiary theme of food)
  • Some commentaries may deliberately deal with two main themes which might
    • Have nothing to do with each other (but may create entanglement or reflection)
    • Are closely related
  • Other texts draw in other themes accidentally (or perhaps unconsciously)