DISCOURSE (Fr. discour, Ger. Diskurs) is a polysemantic term, which is frequently used in modern studies in philosophy and sociology, as well as in literary studies and linguistics. In the Anglo-Saxon and American linguistic tradition discourse is understood as a coherent stretch of speech, longer than a sentence. Discourse is also concerned with the language use in social contexts and interaction between speakers [Stubbs 1983].

The basic principles of discourse studies go back to the French school of discourse analysis, which combined historical, philosophical and psychoanalytical aspects of discourse.

In linguistics the notion of discourse became essential for describing linguistic performance due to the wide distribution of dynamic language models and the terms “speech production” and “speech perception”. Going beyond the linguistic aspect in describing speech activity was crucial for the study of language as a means of conveying ideology, world views and world perception, viewpoints and opinions, analysed in social contexts [Кубрякова 2003: 6].

The Theory of Discourse was developed by P. Sériot, T. Van Dijk and others. According to T. Van Dijk, who is often cited as the founder of the cognitive studies of discourse, discourse. is a communicative event, viewed as a combination of a linguistic form,  a cognitive structure, and  a speech act [Dijk van 2008].

In Russian Linguistics discourse is defined in a similar way as “a complex communicative event, comprising the text and the extralinguistic factors, such as the knowledge of the world, the viewpoints and intentions of the speakers that are essential for the interpretation of the text” [Петров, Караулов 1989: 8]. The circumstances accompanying the event, the background knowledge necessary for its interpretation, the attitudes of the interlocutors, as well as the links between the communicative event and other events are also considered to be extralinguistic factors. V. Demyankov specifies the notion of discourse: “[D]iscourse is the name of an action and text is the name of an object. […] That is why an actor on the stage can forget the words from his text, but never the discourse of the play. […] The discourse involves the description of the characters, objects, time, circumstances of the events, etc.” [Демьянков 2005: 27]. In Russian Linguistics the notion of discourse was analysed by A.A. Kibrik, M.L. Makarov, L.V.Tsurikova, V.I. Karasik, E.I. Sheygal, etc.

In spite of the differences in approaches, in the 1990s the term “discourse”  received the commonly accepted definition as an “on-line” linguistic and social interactive event, i.e. a coherent text viewed as unfolding in time during its production and interpretation.  The notion of discourse reflects the modern tendency towards studying the dynamics of the language, taking into consideration the “external” factors and the specific instances of the language use in all the spheres of human life [Кубрякова 2003].

Further reading

Демьянков В.З. Когниция и понимание текста // Вопросы когнитивной лингвистики. — 2005. — № 3. — С. 5–10.

Караулов Ю.Н., Петров В.В. От грамматики текста к когнитивной теории дискурса // Дейк Т. А. ван. Язык. Познание. Коммуникация. — М.: Прогресс, 1989. — С. 5–11.

Кубрякова Е.С.О типах дискурсивной деятельности // Вестник МГЛУ. — 2003. — Вып. 478. — С. 5–10.

Stubbs M. Discourse Analysis. — Chicago: Chicago Univ. Press, 1983.

Schiffrin D.Approaches to Discourse. — Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.

Dijk van T. Discourse and Context: A Sociocognitive Approach. — Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Natalya Petrova

Translated by Galina Lebedeva