Discourse Analysis in the
Classroom with a Specific Focus
on Teaching Discourse Markers
by Ceri Millward
introduction of discourse analysis into the classroom has,
despite its relative novelty, added a new frame to the understanding
of language and its usage, and in this sense has given the
teacher new tools with which to cater for students' needs.
If we consider that comprehension and understanding are the
primary concerns behind most forms of communication, be they
written or oral, formal or informal, then our focus as teachers
should be centred on ensuring that our students manage to
acquire the skills necessary for such comprehension.
Furthermore, discourse analysis can bring to the forefront
considerations that may be of use in terms of the students'
use of the target language. In this sense it is important
to be acquainted with any potential similarities, or differences,
between the students' L1 and the L2 they are learning. In
this paper we shall look at discourse analysis, focusing on
the use of cohesive devises and more specifically on discourse
markers as a useful tool to enable students to make logical
connections and coherent stretches of both written and spoken
analysis can be characterised as the study of the relationship
between language and the contexts in which it is used. Crystal
(1992:25) defines discourse as, 'a continuous stretch of language
larger than a sentence, often constituting a coherent unit'.
In practical terms it centres on the actual operation of language,
beyond the restrictions of grammar. Its overriding focus is
on context and on the behavioural patterns that structure
the social functions of a language, above and beyond the construction
of structural models.
communicative function must include grammatical and phonological
elements, but in real life situations: context, situation,
purpose, pitch, intonation and gesture can play a decisive
role in the process of comprehension. Given that the goal
behind any communicative interaction is to get a message across,
there can be no doubt that a coherent message will also be
a more effective and efficient one. So much is this so, that
in one's native language, we can consider that there is an
innate expectation of coherence and meaning when performing
the act of reading or listening.
analysing the differences between oral and written discourse
we need to look at some general aspects of discourse. Discourse
may have any number of interlocutors, from a single signpost
to a heated parliamentary debate. Discourse may vary in degrees
of formality and structure, as well as in the object it pursues.
When interpreting discourse, a certain amount of procedures
are activated within the listener/reader, which facilitate
its interpretation. The listener/reader will search for coherence,
and meaning, within the linguistic and contextual knowledge
of the language and the situation, as well as in the conceptual
and formal schemata at his disposal.
objective of discourse analysis is, therefore, to make explicit
the interaction of all these factors that lead to coherence.
In order to achieve this, spoken and written language must
be dissected in various ways to permit a better understanding
discourse, especially conversation, is possibly the form of
discourse that poses the greatest problems in terms of analysis
given its apparently unstructured nature. The number of interlocutors
may vary and the use of non-verbal expressions can add to
the difficulty of its analysis, given the use of 'talking
turns' as McCarthy (1991:69) calls them, and the real possibility
of interruptions and interjections, which nonetheless are
part of discourse.
and Coulthard (1975) suggest a three tier approach, beginning-middle-end,
to focus on the distinct 'moves' that take place in discourse,
be they 'question-answer-comment' as in a classroom environment,
or 'command-acknowledgment-polite formality', as occurs in
a shop between the client and the shopkeeper. What is more,
there is no need for the moves to be verbal, as a grunt of
approval or a mere 'uh-huh' may serve as a 'move' in many
analysing a written text, the situation would seem different,
as we are dealing with a structured, pre-planned, possibly
revised discourse from one sole interlocutor. Furthermore,
writing can be construed as more of a stand alone medium,
as compared to spoken discourse, which is more contextual
or situational. Another important difference lies in that
written discourse does not allow for the possibility of playing
with intonation and pitch, which can serve as discourse markers
in verbal discourse.
said this, we must not assume that an excerpt of speech will
be necessarily more complex than an excerpt of written discourse;
taken out of context they should both pose similar problems.
It would seem clear that in terms of analysis, a sentence
will be a more effective unit of discourse within written
discourse, as compared with spoken discourse, but in terms
of written discourse analysis a paragraph or a longer section
may prove to be more effective.
that discourse, of any kind, can be fragmented into sections,
or 'moves', understanding the meaning of the discourse requires
that the segments not only explain the purpose but that they
be coherent, to avoid misunderstanding the message. Furthermore,
these segments must be signalled, to ensure that other parties
understand them as such. The use of 'cohesive devices', or
clues, in discourse can therefore serve to send signals as
to the fact that these sections are differentiated, and as
to how this should be interpreted.
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