Discourse Analysis Theoretical Principles English Language Essay

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It is common knowledge that people are dependent on communication. Basically, it involves an exchange of information, feelings, thoughts and ideas. There are various methods of using communication, but it would not be possible without language. Due to language, every human is given the opportunity for social interaction with other persons, interpersonal development and, of course, of having a significant place in society. Language is crucial. It embeds a variety of social values, cultural valences, personal conventions and incorporated standards or goals. Obviously, language is part and parcel of society. There is an impenetrable connection between language and society. The relationship between the two is deeply rooted. Humans use language as a way of signalling their social identities. An individual can be placed socially according to the linguistic principles used. In fact, language is the one that anchors the individual's role in society. It can be said that language performs different functions in society and the individual carves its way into community by means of language. Society would be seriously affected in the absence of language. No doubt that it represents the most important tool in the social mirror. Language is the basic code used by any individual in the moment of social interaction. Humans cooperate by means of language and they manipulate objects in their environment. Indeed, it represents a dynamic phenomenon due to the impact society has upon it. Language is not stable. On the contrary, it suffers changes according to current social values and standards. Language can be associated with a lively phenomenon. Like individuals, it follows a process of development. It constantly changes, having no boundaries. But which is the main factor responsible for its changes?

Linguists often claim that society influences the linguistic phenomenon and they are right. Although language is the primary capacity used by the individual to communicate and operate in a specific environment, social developments and changes create the background where the individual has to live. As society changes, social and linguistic values tend to diverge. In times of stability, the traditional linguistic values are not questioned. They do not change because no human being dares to change language. But this is the situation characteristic for a static community. In a dynamic community the situation is totally different. The more accentuated the social consciousness tends to become, so that community begins to change gradually. The only circumstance breaking social conditioning is change. In a period of fast social transformations, the problem lies at the level of social norms questioning, alteration or even destruction. New rules and standards are slowly generated. The uniform model of conformism is no longer obeyed. The conservative and rigid community is not sufficient and people start searching for a new type of power. This authority lies in social change. Hence, social changes determine linguistic changes, too. Language has to obey the current social intensification. It is the first thing suffering the challenge of time and social crosscut. When social norms become a handicap, language has to transform its old roots and evolve. Obviously, language is intimately linked to the members of the society in which it is used and, of course, social factors are reflected in their speech. Social changes are conditioned by language transformation. New words are adopted, new art ideas are followed. Individuals find new languages in themselves and in their own creative thoughts. Thinkers give directions for new principles about justice and freedom of speech. Time passes and language develops accordingly. Society is based on a new linguistic process. It is an interminable process because the linguistic boundaries do not know an end. The previous dialects become old and the words used in a certain period become archaisms. New terms are employed, so as social norms. In this chaotic situation, language is no longer connected to social reality. Social self-referential ties are broken. Radical innovations are promoted while language becomes autonomous and self-contained.

In other words, community represents the group of people related to each other by means of persistent relations, or a large social group sharing the same geographical, territorial and linguistic principles. Except its interacting role, language is used for communication purposes, to express power and authority, to establish peace and order and to attain certain objectives. Unfortunately, it can damage society in case it is employed inappropriately. It must follow the society governing conformity in order to avoid conflicts and to meet the limits of individual differences. However, society controls our preferences and guides individuals choosing the appropriate norms. Every individual has its own way of perceiving reality but society is the one dictating what is acceptable and not. A golden rule refers to the admissible language a person should use in a specific context, for a certain purpose and in the company of particular individuals.

The connection between Language and Culture

Language and culture are both perceived as integral parts of human life. The study of their relationship constituted the focus on many scholars and polarised them into different fields. In a few words, they often claimed that a) language determines culture and thought; b) language influences culture and thought; c) culture influences people's language; d) language and culture influences each other and e) language and culture do not correlate with each other.

Language represents obviously the expression of culture. The latter is perceived as the multitude of ideas, customs, beliefs and traditions specific to a community sharing the same language. People living in a particular community are connected through language. It is the first instrument they use to tie relationships, to manage as individuals and to create their own path within society. Hence, language is used for communicative purposes at the community level. It is well-known that language is a common instrument when it comes to the description of a community. Languages represent, thus, human creations and tools people invented in order to meet human needs. Furthermore, languages are uniquely human abilities. They make people human. They make human beings look different. In other words, languages mean differences. Communities employ different languages and their specific facets, like dialects, accents, pronunciations and the lot. Language use is a manner of differentiating a community from another, of displaying the group's identity in its relation with another one. The speaker's social position is influenced and emphasized by the language he or she employs. Hence, the dramatically different human natures depend to a great extent on the languages people speak. People are shaped according to the language they speak. Therefore, the cultural system specific to a community changes, as well. Researchers often analyse language as a system merged with cultural valences in order to establish a particular social coherence. For example, children acquire language in the same manner as they acquire basic cultural and social norms, through interaction with the older members of that community. From its birth, the child's life, opinions and language are shaped by the individuals it comes into contact with.

On the other hand, questions about how societies have been ruled and what linguistic systems have been used represented a fascinating issue to the human mind since Antiquity. The connection between language and culture has been considered long before the classical period. It is generally agreed that people who knew speaking properly and the erudite individuals, particularly, were considered to be people of the world. They deserved to rule the community and to represent its interests. To continue, it could be said that the teachers of a language can be perceived as the teachers of a culture. It is often claimed that the first step to understand and interpret the fundamental cultural traits of a community refers to the comprehension of that community's language. Briefly, it could be argued that learning a new language coincides with learning of a new culture. The individual is no longer located into its native community. On the contrary, he or she interactions with different cultural, linguistic and social aspects, acknowledging his or her own values. Within a new community, the individual begins exploring the unknown. He or she acknowledges that there are people promoting different values, traditions, standards, and customs than his or her community. The solution is not adopting prejudices or misconceptions but rather accepting otherness. The individual should respect the new paradigm encountered. The new cultural framework should not be questioned or criticised. The individual must accept the idea that there is no limit of expression. Cultural boundaries are endless. To put it another way, language reflects a way of thinking. It is language that brings people and keeps them together. It has always preceded society. Nevertheless, language models and makes possible a destructive cultural phenomenon. It is generally known that when a person changes his or her lifestyle, primary language, or even his or her culture, the individual automatically adopts new patterns of projection and introjection. Therefore, his or her needs change depending on the new culture assimilated. The immigrant's identity is destroyed and replaced with another. His old way of life disappears.

Because language is a creative and open system, it is extremely flexible and can express new ideas and concepts. Thanks to its flexibility, language plays an essential role in the maintenance of social relationships. Of course, human language is capable of creating, recreating complex thoughts, patterns and experiences in words. No doubt that without human language, human culture would extinct. Moreover, linguists are concerned about the last 5% of the world's languages which are in danger of disappearing. With the passage of time, English has become the international lingua franca. For instance, more and more Romanian terms have been replaced with English words. This situation is concerning because the Romanian culture transforms into a paradigm of survival and a reduced traditional dimension. To a deeper analysis, it could be argued that the adoption of foreign concepts, the Romanian traditional norms and standards are thrown into the whirl of the past. English represents the future. It is a flexible future, where people reach to a common denominator. This is the result of globalisation, an actual phenomenon which will be analysed in another chapter.

Language and Discourse

In the previous pages the focus was reflected on the importance of language in the social and human interaction. As a consequence, people have a conversation on different topics. The denotations of these spoken and written communications refer particularly to the term of discourse. It is a fact that discourses are part and parcel of humans' lives. They are embedded in our language and our views are, of course, influenced by them. In other words, discourses constitute a way of thinking which can be expressed by means of language, representing a social boundary with diverse impacts upon people's lives and intellect. Thus, it is impossible to avoid discourses. As much as theory is concerned, it is worth mentioning that discourse embodies a typical and fundamental foucaltian concept. The French philosopher, Michel Foucault, focused his attention on the analysis of discourse at the cultural level. In his opinion, the entire culture is inserted into a discourse. Therefore, people have access to the cultural system of a country or society only by means of its revalorisation through discourse. Needless to say, for Foucault discourse is closely related to the social power perceived as an ensemble of institutions. A deeper analysis would reveal the fact that, according to Foucault, language must be associated with discourse, in order to be interpreted in its historical plurality. In addition to this, the French philosopher claims that people have been created by means of discourse, because it is the main tool of providing knowledge. Hence, discourse is strongly connected to the human power acquired through discovering and knowledge development. So, it is popularly believed that through discourse the individual recreates an intimate relationship with himself. Culture and the passage of time facilitated the path for people's rebirth and unique rediscovery, because they distinguish themselves from the others through discourse and by acknowledging that their values are integral part of the culture they promote. A single word can be employed in this sense, namely doctrine. Michel Foucault describes this facet of discourse in his masterpiece, The Order of Discourse, "Doctrine binds individuals to certain types of enunciation and consequently forbids them all others, but it uses, in return, certain types of enunciation to bind individuals amongst individuals, and to differentiate them by that very fact from all others" (1981: 64).

As a result, the modern era coincides with the emergence of a new area of interest in as much as discourse is concerned. The contemporary discourse must be grasped by focusing on the concepts of "discourse analysis" and "critical discourse analysis". The main difference between these two types of theories is that their approaches related to discourse are dissimilar. For instance, discourse analysts focus on the abstract structures of texts whereas critical discourse analysts are interested in the text's dynamism and materialisation in the external reality. Actually, discourse analysis can be defined as the primarily linguistic study analysing the use of language by its native population, adding that their major focus is studying linguistic functions together with its forms, produced both orally and in writing. Social inquiry of language, communication performed in different settings, analysis of the factors essential for communication specific circumstances, intonation of people, or speakers' behaviour represent a series of items dealt by discourse analysis. That is to say, discourse analysis can be considered as a manner of approaching and decomposing a problem. Of course, it is wrong to state that discourse analysis is used as a quantitative or qualitative research method. On the contrary, it is a manner of interpreting the primary assumptions of quantitative and qualitative research methods. In fact, discourse analysis provides a system of classification, employed as a deconstructive strategy in relation to a problem, a text or a project. Although critical thinking regarding the exposition of texts and situations has been promoted since the first periods of ancient philosophy, it could be argued that discourse analysis represents the product of the postmodern age. According to discourse analysts, the postmodern period is no longer concerned with society as a whole. Actually, discourse analysis focuses on society as a heterogeneous and fragmented system, where words lost their purpose, according to Jacques Derrida. In fact, words are considered to be remnants of the sense. Words are dissolved and individuals stick to the sense they once had. People are guided by the sense words used to have before. They carry a nihilistic sense and the postmodern period is conditioned by social surroundings and dominant subjective interpretation of values. Briefly, discourse analysis cannot provide definite answers, but it helps people expanding their views by comprehending human shortcomings and the reality behind specific actions.

On the other hand, critical discourse analysis is no longer limited to the study of the text, trying to interpret facts beyond words. Cultural studies draw their essence from the basis of critical discourse analysis. As it has been stated before, the postmodern society is based on rules and norms. Humans guide their lives according to these standards. Individuals cannot express their pure opinions at any time, because the contemporary system of social and cultural principles strangulates their free thinking. Interested in the connection between power and discourse, the critical discourse analysts focus their studies on dominance, hegemony, ideology, class, gender, race, discrimination, social differences, and societal structure. So, in order to perform a critical discourse analysis, the setting, participants, their social objectives and roles, their place in the societal structure must be taken into consideration. In his Order of Discourse, Michel Foucault referred to the concept of prohibition:

'In a society like ours, the procedures of exclusion are well known. The most obvious and familiar is the prohibition .We know quite well that we do not have the right to say everything, that we cannot speak of just anything in any circumstances whatever, and that not everyone has the right to speak of anything whatever.' (1981: 15)

As a consequence, prohibition represents the most common form of exclusion, coinciding with the absence of right to own opinion. In as much the above quotation is concerned, two feelings seem to gain more importance in our society nowadays, namely the imposed respect and fear. Metaphorically, the social strings the individual is caught into are false. The contemporary society is actually a battle for dominance where only the legitimated institutions and their representatives are entitled to speak. Common people do not deserve the right to express their opinions, because they are enslaved by the principles specific to a rigid community. The reproduction of dominance lies in the creation of social inequality developed between superiors and subordinates. This social inequality represents one of the critical discourse analysts' interests. They relate their work to the causes, consequences and effects of social discrepancies. It is not wrong to say that they also have an important role as social activists and critics. Critical discourse analysis requires multidisciplinarity, consideration regarding the complexity of textual relations, social structure acknowledgement, cultural and positional bifurcations. Of course, critical discourse analysts manifested a clear interest for political discourse varieties.

Political Discourse

Political discourse goes hand in hand with legitimate control by means of words, a battle between different linguistic forces, representing a subtle manner of dominance and manipulation. As it has been presented before, not all persons are entitled to provide a discourse. In comparison with the ancient philosophers and scholars who benefit from the right to receive education due to their considerable financial resources, not all society members have this opportunity. The purely personal power fades in relation to social superiority. In other words, social power is understood, according to Van Dijk, as the "privileged access to socially valued resources, such as wealth, income, position, status, force, group membership, education or knowledge" (1993: 6). No doubt that knowledge is mind empowering and provides the perfect tool for dissimulation and manipulation. Coordinating the mind of others through text and talk represents the headstone of critical discourse analysis. The principles of manipulative discourse determining power abuse are associated with the essential fundamentals of critical discourse analysis. People exerting power usually violate laws, specific rules and norms, and the principles of human equality and justice. The individuals influencing the other group members use more or less persistent forms of dominance. Therefore, we assist to the myth of villains and victims. But there is a difference. The management of mind is not always imposed. On the contrary, these forms of dominance are most of the time accepted by the victims. They believe in villains' false promises. This aspect represents a key issue for the object of critical discourse analysis.

As a matter of fact, the actual discourse is determined by social orders, sets of conventions specific to social institutions. For instance, politics partly implies conflicts, disputes and struggles produced at linguistic levels and beyond language. According to Norman Fairclough, there are three dimensions of discourse, namely texts, interaction and contexts. Moreover, corresponding to the above mentioned dimensions, it is worth presenting the stages of critical discourse analysis. The first phase is represented by description, being concerned with the formal properties of the text. Next, the interpretation of discourse is perceived as the interaction between the text and the listener. Consequently, the text is the product of a closely planned process and a resource during the interpretation action. The last stage followed for a critical discourse analysis is explanation, defined as the interaction of the text with its social context. It is Fairclough who claimed that CDA does not consider discourse as a final and completed product, but as a process, because CDA studies it in its development. Furthermore, the same Fairclough provides a structure to be followed in texts analysis:

'Text analysis can be organized under four main headings: vocabulary, grammar, cohesion, and text structure. These can be thought as ascending in scale: vocabulary deals mainly with individual words, grammar deals with words combined into clauses and sentences, cohesion deals with how clauses and sentences are linked together, and text structure deals with large-scale organizational properties of texts. In addition, I distinguish a further three main headings which will be used in analysis of discursive practice rather than text analysis, though they certainly involve formal features of texts: the 'force' of utterances, i.e. what sorts of speech acts (promises, requests, threats etc.) they constitute; the 'coherence' of texts; and the 'intertextuality' of texts. Together, these seven headings constitute a framework for analysing texts which covers aspects of their production and interpretation as well as formal properties of text.' (1992: 75)

Like the members of a community are connected, so are the texts. As a result, texts cannot be analysed in isolation, because their presence always influences the others. In fact, texts are characterised by continuity and that is why they must be correlated with previous works published in the same field. In as much as language is concerned, it is needless to say that it has a significant role at societal level. Language is, of course, subject to the social conventions the community is based on. Class and power are key issues for the capitalist society and language is dependent on social contexts. Therefore, language is an important strand of the social aspect, constituting, according to Fairclough, "the primary medium of social control and power" (2001: 2).

Returning to political discourse, it must be added that debates, speeches and hearings represent the domain of interest of critical discourse analysts. The world of politics is very complex, but the aim is the same, namely conquering and manipulating human minds in order to gain extreme power. Politicians usually build up their speeches according to certain ideologies, defined as systems of beliefs. Theoretically they share the same knowledge, aspirations, objectives whereas ideology is correlated with the core of the political group members' identity. Following a deeper analysis, political ideologies refer to a wide spectrum of societal aspects, like the economy, education, health care, medical services, the justice system, criminal law, social welfare, trade, agriculture, the environment, established religion, patriotism, and the like. It is pointless to mention that political discourses are characterised by promises which most of the time are false. People like to believe them without losing hope for a better future. All in all, this is human.


Political discourse is not an easy topic to deal with. Its complexity is provided by the language used. As it has been mentioned before, language is extremely important for humans. It is the main tool used for social integration, personal and interpersonal development. Despite its integrative and communication function, language can be also used for manipulative purposes. Politicians are those who incorporate different linguistic sets in order to determine people provide them the sceptre of power. The devalued application of language for far from good goals represents the domain of concern for the majority of critical discourse analysts. Together with discourse analysts, they do not study discourse as a final input, but as a valuable and limitless process. What is more, CDA is interested in other issues, like race, ideologies, gender, political identities, and manipulative mechanisms. As a result, political culture represents an aggregate of political manifestations rooted equally in public events and private experiences of both villains and victims. This concept will be enlarged in the next chapter, trying to put an emphasis on the role of politics in people's lives.