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Power In Discourse Includes Powerful Participants English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2467 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Norman Fairclough, observes that there is a correlation between unequal power relations and the way language is used. In this essay, I’m going to comment on language and power in analyzing discourse. I’ll discuss different encounters that display power in discourse. Therefore, I categorize areas of constraints enacted through discourse and Provide examples of language indicators of power in the quoted discourse.

Power in discourse includes powerful participants who control contributions of non-powerful participants. Constraints of speakers’ contributions have three types;

Content: what is said or done.

Relations: Social relations involved in discourse.

Subjects: Subject positions which people can occupy.

I’ve chosen an encounter which displays power in discourse as a conversation between members of a family about buying a new house in Kuwait;

1.Husband: I think about buying a new house.Thus,I ‘d like to ask about your opinions.

2.Wife: A good idea but you should think about which are and location rather than size of the housev or number of rooms.

3.Husband: Which area do you prefer?

4.Wife: internal areas such as Shweikh or Abdallah AL-Salm.

5.Husband:(angrily)Are you crazy?Don’t you know that the house costs one million dinar in this area but we have got only one hundred forty……

6.Wife: What about other areas such as AL-Rawda,AL Sora,AL-Odyleya………..

7.Husband:I told you that we don’t have price of one house in these areas as the smallest one costs about one hundred seventy but we need a large house containg three rooms at least.

9.Sarah:(the oldest daughter) I need a private room as I’m a university student and can’t study with my little daughters.Thus,we need gour rooms at least.

10.Ahmed(the oldest son): I also need a private room.

11.Abdallah and Abdalaziz(twins):we alsop need a private room and don’t like to change our school where we have all our friends.What about buying in this area?

12.Wife:(angirly) you will go to a better school and make new friendships.

13.Husband:What ‘s your opinion,my parents?

14.Grandfather: what can I say as you decided to desert us?

15.Father:No,father,you will come with us.

16.Grandfather: I won’t leave my house.

17.Grandmother: I won’t leave my house.how vabout staying with us as the house is very large.

18.Wife: What about selling your house inorder to be able to buy a large house in luxurious areas……….

19.Husband: I don’t admit that as it is unfair to my brothers so I’ll buy a house at our expenses only.

20.Ahmed:Dewanya is the most important place inh the house where all men meet,isn’t it?

21.Father:Yes,it is very important.

22.Wife:(angirly)Where willyou build a house?

23.Husband: May be,in Said Al-Abdalah

24.Wife:(exclaiming),in Al-jahra.I’ve never visited it.What can I say to all friends and relatives.

25.Husband: It have decided to do that.

26.Grandfather: You can stay with us after we reconstructed our house as we can’t live without you.

27.Grandmother:It is good.Then,you can stay here , won’t change your schools and have your private rooms.

28.Wife:It is agood idea.Then,we can do business to get more money and buy the house which we like,can’t we?

29.Daughters and Sons:It is great father,we will stay with gramndparents and won’t change our school.

30.Husband: I’ll think about this idea.

Father, as a power holder, exercises control over contributions of all family members in conversation as follows;

In the opening turn,father,as a power holder in the house, announced to other members of the family what he is thinking about and identify their contributions in this subject” I’d like to ask about your opinions.”.In turn(1)He told them that he needs to know their opinions about buying a new house so he allows them indirectly to start talking and participate in such a conversation. Again in turn(13),father practices control of power over discourse when he asks his parents to tell their opinions” What ‘s your opinion,my parents?”.However,he gives equal instructions to all participants to tell their opinions explicitly about buying a new house but when he notices that grandparents are silent, he asserts his desire to know their own opinions in turn(13).Father evaluated a lot of contribution from other members of the family in turns(21) explicitly when he asserted the importance of Dewanya “Yes, it’s very important” as his son suggested and in turn (30) implicitly when he decided to think about this idea. Father used positive evaluations in order to encourage other participants to continue their contributions in conversation. These are considered as arrogant if father address equal partners or more powerful ones.

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Wife made series of questions in turns(6),(18),and (22) which indicates that wife fails to master power in discourse. This is an appropriate tactic to maintain a lot of control on conversation as he asks most questions which all members of the family answer and express their disagreement on some suggestions or ideas concerning a new house. Family members’ answers show that they adhere to rights of conversation.However,some people can’t imagine that father as a power holder can be asked and answer questions in turns(7),(15) and (19).That’s because father provides some space to other members of the family to make conversation continue on longer term. Obligations of family members to contribute in conversation are emphasized in turns (14),(23) and (26) by a pause(marked by a space dot) where there is a brief silence in which all eyes are on this participant who are responsible to tell his opinion.

In turn(5),father uses a negative question ” Don’t you know that the house costs one million dinar in this area but we have got only one hundred forty…”which may be dependent on intonation or other circumstances of discourse. This question as if father suggested something before and wife contrasts this suggestion so his negative question makes his wife to look silly.Finally,in turns(25) and (30),father uses short sentences which seems to be hardly spoken as if he would like to end conversation as a power holder because he reaches his final decision concerning buying a new house or not. Question tags are used in (20)”isn’t it?” and (28)”can’t we?” which refers to the speakers’ suggestion but others may seem to disagree these suggestions. Question tags are used depending on intonation and other factors which affect conversation stream.

Interruptions and overlaps occur in turns (6),(7) and (14) as constraints on content, relations and subjects aren’t well adopted. Wife and husband interrupted each others in these turns as if father fails to master power in discourse. Relations and subjects of the conversation are closely related as all these interruptions occur in the conversation. We have all types of constraints in this example. Concerning content, family members are required to tell their opinions about buying a new house. Relations are social between father and other family members. Subject positions include an aspirant father and other members of the family including grandparents. These constraints lead to particular forms of language.

All constraints on discourse, whether content, subject or relation, don’t appear to have direct control of power in discourse on other family members who participate in this conversation. When we examine conversation continum,we notice that father is the only responsible for giving all directive acts of speech particularly questions to other members of the family who are obliged to answer or at least give their opinions to father as a power holder over discourse. Family members play the role of father’s subordinate who must contribute by their views about topic of discussion which is buying a new house. Father doesn’t control the discourse directly but family members are already constrained by conventions of discourse type which is previously identified.

Although, father is a power holder who determines which discourse can be admitted, other powerful participants, such as a wife, can produce directive speech acts particularly making questions as what occurs in turns (6),(18) and (22) so wife as a powerful participant can indirectly constrain the participants by selecting the discourse type. The most important constraint is self-constraint as all participants adhere to conventions of discourse whether powerful or non powerful participants.However,father as the most powerful participant manages to master discourse very skillfully and provides space for other non-powerful participants to make their contributions or even interruptions in different degrees and distances. In turn(6),wife interrupts father not because she would like to do all the talking or control discourse but because she would like to relieve father’s anger from her previous contribution in conversation.However,in turn (7),father interrupts wife in order to control her contribution in the conversation as a power holder who has the right to practice power in discourse over other family members particularly his wife who should give correct participation as he expects.

Power in discourse or behind discourse isn’t always attributed to a particular person or social groupings. On the other hand, power may be lost or won in the discourse according to social struggle.People,who don’t hold power usually look forward to gaining sources of power. This applied to0 the speakers at different levels whether situational, social or institutional.

Let us begin with a text where struggle is clear in an interview between a student(S) who is accused of making trouble at school and a teacher(T);

1.T: Why didn’t you leave school at 2 p.m?

2.S: I didn’t use to leave school immediately at 2.p.m.

3.T: Why is that?

4.S: That is clear, isn’t it?I’,m waiting for may classmates to go together.

5.T: Well. There aren’t any students at school at that time, are there?

6.S: No, none of students are there at that time, are they? what about .students who were collecting there?

7.T: That was last year.However,Iamn’t convinced that you are innocent as you said.Hence,did you go to the court instead of going straight home?

8.S: I thought that my classmates might come to the court.Anyway,we usually meet at the court.

In this conversation, the teacher exercises control over students’ contributions. They both adhere to rights and obligations of discourse which readers or listeners can expect in such an interview.However,I don’t expect that a student asks a question and a teacher answers. Audience may expect that teacher exercises more control over discourse than all people expect. He tends to exceed his discourse rights and doesn’t adhere to his obligations.Firstly,the student challenges teacher’s questions in two occasions(turn 2 and 4),instead of answering teacher’s questions directly.However,the student provides an answer to a question implicitly in (2) and introduced it after he challenges the teacher’s question in (4).In addition in (6),the student asks a question which the teacher answers as all listeners or readers don’t expect. On the other hand, a student gives an answer in turns (6) and (8) which is irrelevant to what the teacher wants to know.However,all expect that the teacher can force the student to requirement of an interview or which should have a relatively formal setting but he deals with a teacher as a peer. It is evident in a student’s vocabulray”students,collecting,the court,meet”.Audience thinks that a student who uses these vocabulary

Must be influenced by the interview’s setting,occasion,power and distance which separates him from the teacher.

The teacher maintains a lot of control on an interview as he asks most questions which the student answers fairly with some complaint. The student’s answers indicate some adherence to rights and obligations of conversation., The teacher, as a power holder, yields some ground to the student in order to pursue a strategy of a long term. This may be an interpretation of the teacher’s failure to immediate challenge to the student’s questions but he answers them and let his challenge pass as he accepts it.

This example shows how a social struggle of power between a student who shows that he isn’t affected by school authority as he challenges conventional constraints of discourse in such situations. There are three levels of social organisation;situational,institutional and societal. We have described what is going on a situational level.However,we haven’t a adopted a social pattern to which a student belongs to the same class of society as all young people so the teacher uses appropriate tactics which are standard for dealing with all individuals of his class. At institutional level, law and the family are similar institutions which shows the same struggle between young people as a social struggle at an institutional level as the school can be considered as a social institution. Power in discourse or behind discourse isn’t always attributed to a particular person or social groupings. On the other hand, power may be lost or won in the discourse according to social struggle.People,who don’t hold power usually look forward to gaining sources of power. This applied to0 the speakers at different levels whether situational, social or institutional.


In conclusion, some speakers have power in discourse as they exercise control on other participants of discourse. discourse is seen as a place where speakers exercise relations of power. On the other hand, power behind discourse is related to how relations of power constitute discourse order in society. Power can’t be held by definite persons for ever but it is won and lost through social struggle. In my opinion, there is continuous inequalities between people, there is always power in discourse, power behind discourse and social struggle in discourse.


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