Used in a wide range of humanities and social science disciplines such as education, anthropology, psychology, public relations, linguistics, sociology, discourse analysis is an approach to analysis of written, verbal and non-verbal language in its social context. It examines vocabulary, grammar, text type, structure, etc.
The term was first coined by linguist Zellig Harris who defined discourse analysis as:
“Discourse analysis is a method for the analysis of connected speech or writing, for continuing descriptive linguistics beyond the limit of a simple sentence at a time.”
To understand the term better, let’s look at the meaning of the word “discourse.” According to Mariam-Webster dictionary, “discourse” is:
1 verbal interchange of ideas, especially conversation
2 a: formal and orderly and usually extended expression of thought on a subject
b: connected speech or writing
c: a linguistic unit (such as a conversation or a story) larger than a sentence
3 a mode of organizing knowledge, ideas, or experience that is rooted in language and its concrete contexts (such as history or institutions)
If we generalize all these, discourse is simply language in use, therefore discourse analysis can be seen as an analysis of language in use (Brown & Yule 1983; Cook 1989).
Discourse analysis looks at:
- how grammar, vocabulary, structure used in text form meaning in the social context
- in which tense the speakers speak, are the sentences active or passive
- using formal or informal words or using the same and similar words multiple times
- emphasized words
- the tone of the conversation – if it is positive or negative, does it express excitement, happiness, sadness, etc.
- the conjunctions, the punctuation used
Naturally, in order to conduct a successful discourse analysis, the researcher should have extensive knowledge of grammar and vocabulary.
Discourse analysis and Content analysis differences
At first, discourse analysis looks like content analysis, but they are different in that content analysis is a method used to study the meaning behind the texts, while discourse analysis is focused on analyzing the language used in them. In short, the former examines content, whereas the latter studies language. Content analysis is a quantitative method. In contrast, discourse analysis mostly uses qualitative data.