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Applying Discourse Analysis in the
Classroom with a Specific Focus
on Teaching Discourse Markers
by Ceri Millward
- 2


Whereas 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.

A 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 .

Discourse markers

Discourse 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.

Parrot (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.

As 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 and effect.

Having 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, respectively.

Most 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

I 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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