Discourse Analysis in the
Classroom with a Specific Focus
on Teaching Discourse Markers
by Ceri Millward
coherence is a necessary element for comprehension, it may
not be sufficient, especially when confronted with a larger
text or listening exercise. At this point we must refer to
another element - cohesion. Nunan (1993:59) believes that,
'coherent texts are distinguished from random sentences by
the existence of certain text-forming, cohesive devises.'
Cohesion as such can be considered as a guide to coherence,
a means to ensure, or simplify, coherence and comprehension.
Certain words, or phrases, and their location within the discourse
will activate a set of assumptions as to the meaning of what
has gone beforehand or will generate a set of expectations
as to what may follow. These words can be described as 'cohesive
devices', as they create links across the boundaries of mere
fragments, or can chain related items together.
cohesive device can be defined as a word, phrase or clause,
which organises and manages a stretch of discourse. Halliday
and Hasan (1976) give a very comprehensive description and
analysis of these devices by categorising them into five distinct
types of cohesion: reference, substitution, ellipsis, conjunction
and lexical cohesion.
Reference items are those, which refer to something or someone,
within the framework of the discourse. They can be pronouns
('he', 'she', 'it', 'they', 'him'), demonstratives ('that',
'those'), the article 'the', or other items ('such as').
Ellipsis involves the deliberate omittance of elements, despite
being generally required by grammar, if they are considered
to be obvious within the specific context.
Substitution relates to the substitution of words or clauses
with a generic word or phrase.
Lexical cohesion is created by repetition of a word or by
using two words in a text that are semantically related .
markers, although similar to the previous cohesive devices,
given that they presuppose a textual sequence and signal a
relationship between the segments of discourse, deserve to
be treated in a separate manner, as they do not lead to a
search for a referent or meaning. Furthermore, they are fairly
elusive as single word conjunctions and can easily become
phrasal, or clausal conjunctions.
(2002:302) gives a clear definition and states some of the
different functions and uses of discourse markers:
To 'signpost' logical relationships and sequences - to point
out how bits of what we say and write relate to each other.
To 'manage' conversations - to negotiate who speaks and when,
to monitor and express involvement in the topic.
To influence how the listeners or readers react.
To express our attitude to what we say and write.
Parrot goes on to state, 'there is no universally agreed way
of classifying discourse markers; nor is there an exhaustive
inventory of them'. The term discourse marker itself, and
what it applies to is under debate. Most grammars and teaching
materials, use it to cover a wide variety of words and expressions,
although some use the term conjunction for written linkers
and discourse markers only for those in a spoken context.
In this paper I have used the terms discourse marker, conjunction
and connector interchangeably to cover cohesive devices that
join sentences or clauses together.
There are several different classifications for the meaning
and functions of discourse markers, though the most often
referred to are :
Adversative - The information in the second sentence qualifies
the information in the first.
Additive - To present additional information.
Temporal - When the events in the text are related in terms
of the time of the occurrence.
Causal - The relationship highlighted here is one of cause
said this, Halliday (1985:302-9) believes that these categories
are not sufficient to truly describe the form and functions
of each conjunction, he suggests other categories which we
can simplify into three types: elaboration, extension and
enhancement, each with two sub types: apposition and clarification,
addition and variation, spatio-temporal and causal conditional,
authors suggest the use of tables to categorise discourse
markers into groups according to meaning, though Bolitho &
Tomlinson (1980) also divide conjunctions into three different
types according to their usage within a text. This is a useful
classroom aid as it clarifies the functions of each conjunction
and makes their correct usage explicit
believe that categorising discourse markers, though useful
as a written record, can lead to some confusion and misuse,
as students may believe that they are interchangeable within
a text. For this reason I will continue to discuss this point
under the heading of classroom applications.
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