Discourse Analysis for Rhetorical Studies
University of New Mexico, November 11, 2005
Barbara Johnstone, email@example.com
Rhetoric Program, Department of English
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh PA 15217 USA
What is discourse analysis?
I approach discourse analysis as a set of methods of inquiry (not a
subfield of linguistics or literary/cultural studies)
Discourse analysis is used in many fields, including
Why do rhetoricians need discourse analysis?
traditional objects of inquiry: planned, traditional modes of analysis: analytic
often institutional genres vocabulary of classical rhetoric (topoi,
figures, etc.), intuition-based
reasoning; explication de texte; a
variety of critical-theoretical lenses
new objects of inquiry: private new techniques for analyzing the
spheres, vernacular rhetoric, language of text and talk (eg.
multimedia discourse; spontaneous discourse analysis); new ways of
discourse in fleeting everyday describing the sociocultural and
rhetorical situations. Rhetoric of material contexts of discourse (eg.
history, popular culture; rhetoric on the ethnography)
street, in the beauty shop, online; the
rhetoricity of personal identity
Some uses of discourse analysis in rhetorical studies
Academic and workplace writing and the composition classroom (eg. Nystrand,
Fuller & Lutz on classroom discourse; Barton, Peck MacDonald on
academic discourse; Swales on ESL writing; Kaufer et al. on representation
Scientific and technical discourse (eg. Bazerman, Atkinson; Berkenkotter,
Geisler on medical discourse; Stygall on legal discourse)
Argumentation (eg. Jakobs & Jackson, Tracy)
Literacy studies (eg. Gee)
[Handout: Annotated bibliography of discourse analysis in rhetorical studies]
Among the rhetorical questions our students have addressed through
discourse analysis are these:
1. What ideas about language and gender underlie the design of
“communicatively competent” software agents? (turn-taking and politeness
in the Loebner competition)
2. How has Waco come to be a “rhetorical icon” via accounts of what
happened there in 1993?
3. How does scientific discourse serve as a rhetorical resource in public
debate about sexuality, and how does public discourse shape scientific
discourse? (intertextual chains linking research study, press release, media
accounts about “reparative therapy” for homosexuality)
4. How does the rhetorical situation of participants in the South African Truth
and Reconciliation hearings affect the “truth” that is constructed and the
kinds of reconciliation that can result? (how perpetrators and victims are
named and described; transitivity and agency)
5. How does a new organization develop conventions for projecting
institutional identity and carrying out procedure?
6. What can we learn about rhetorical ethos by looking at online chat? (the
significance of narrative in the projection of professional identity)
7. How do news articles represent and create “controversy”?
Carrying out a rhetorical research project using DA might involve several
1. Start with a a body of texts and a general question about them.
2. Using a list of factors that shape discourse as a heuristic, interrogate one
of your texts from a variety of perspectives to develop hypotheses about
how rhetorical effects and properties of the texts are related.
3. Then create and apply a systematic coding scheme to test one of your
hypotheses on a set of texts.
4. If an appropriate system for automating your analysis is available, or if an
existing system suggests a different coding scheme that looks promising,
consider using it.
5. At every stage, keep going back to your texts to explore reasons for the
patterns you find and to get ideas about what else is going on.
What is an inventional heuristic?
Sources of constraint on discourse
Discourse is shaped by the world and shapes the world.
Discourse is shaped by language and shapes language.
Discourse is shaped by participants and shapes
Discourse is shaped by prior discourse and shapes future
Discourse is shaped by medium and shapes medium.
Discourse is shaped by purpose and shapes purposes.
[Handout: some areas of choice]
heuristic question one or two textual features you might examine in AIDS article:
How is this text shaped by wording: How are the “characters” represented via nominals? first 5 references to people with AIDS: 53%, those (who need them
the world thought to be most), patients (3x)
external to it, and how does
it shape this world?
How is this text shaped by sentence structure: What is the syntactic role of nominals object of verb: AIDS drug cocktails fail 53%, AIDS medicines are
(and how does it shape) the referring to people with AIDS? What semantic roles do these failing those who need them most
possibilities of English nominals play? object of proposition: [trial] on “real-world” patients
sentence structure and subject/instrument: patients… developed evidence
vocabulary? subject/experiencer: patients … saw their AIDS virus levels rise
How is this text shaped by forms of address and reference, pronouns: How are author author: Lisa M. Krieger, EXAMINER MEDICAL WRITER
participants and how does it and audience represented? What participant roles are elided? principal: San Francisco Examiner, sfgate.com
shape participants? audience: “disappointing”
absence of I, you, we
How is this text shaped by topical schemata news writing schema? departures from it?
generic expectations, other
kinds of intertextual links
with prior discourse, and
how does it shape the
possibilities for future
How is this text shaped by syntactic complexity, visual and verbal chunking What are the longest and shortest paragraphs in the article, in
medium, and how does it numbers of words? In numbers of clauses?
shape the possibilities for the
How is this text shaped by epistemic stance, argument, and the language of “objectivity” How is evidence alluded to or adduced? “study” as source of
purposes, and how does it evidence; patients as source of evidence; researcher as source of
shape possible purposes? evidence
[handout: Pumpernickel text and chart]
heuristic question one or two textual features you might examine in Pumpernickel:
How is this text shaped by the wording: what are there a lot of words for? where evocation of Jewish, E. European life: rye, onion, challah, pumpernickel,
world thought to be external to do these words come from? caraway; apple-cheeked peasant bride.
it, and how does it shape this compare the words in the beginning like rose… make … break with words in
world? the end like stubborn complexity .. glistening truth .. mystery … absurd
How is this text shaped by sentence structure: What is the syntactic role of Agent: Grandma rose, broke her hands, cursed in five languages
(and how does it shape) the nominals referring to Grandma, to pumpernickel? Agent: pumpernickel demanded (personification? generic language of
possibilities of English how are grammatical expectations met or violated? recipes?)
sentence structure and Experiencer/patient: (Grandma broke her hands, cursed) for pumpernickel
How is this text shaped by representations of speech: what voices/stances are Grandma: “cursed” and told “Old Testament stories” but not represented via
participants and how does it represented? how? direct speech.
shape participants? Whose voice(s) are represented in “Why bother? I’ll tell you why.”?
Shift to a more authoritative stance/footing in lines 8-9 ff. How is this
How is this text shaped by genreric structural and semantic schemes Petrarchian sonnet; Problem-Solution structure
generic expectations, other
kinds of intertextual links with
prior discourse, and how does
it shape the possibilities for
How is this text shaped by syntactic complexity, visual and verbal chunking Is a poem like this meant to be read aloud? Memorized? What features lend
medium, and how does it themselves to oral production, to memorization, to silent reading?
shape the possibilities for the
How is this text shaped by verbal art and performance alliteration and verbal art. Other keys to performance?
purposes, and how does it
shape possible purposes?
What are your questions? What texts are you working with?