Barton: “Linguistic Discourse Analysis: How the Language in Texts Works”

Barton, Ellen. “Linguistic Discourse Analysis: How the Language in Texts Works.” What writing does and how it does it : an introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices. Ed. Charles Bazerman. Mahwah N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004. 57-82. Print. 




Defines discourse analysis as "a method for analyzing the ways that specific features of language contribute to the interpretation of texts in their various contexts" (57). Studies language''s organization into "texts and contexts." Sentence structure, genres, world views. Quant or qual. Focus in this chapter how used in linguistics and comp studies.


Basic Concepts and Approaches in Discourse Analysis


Language = structure (unit of language... sound, syllable, word, phrase, clause, sentence) and function (use for purpose, e.g., informational, expressive, or social).


Structural Linguistics: language is cognitive object; investigates rules and constraints. Deeply internalized / highly abstract. Internalize, for instance, word order. (linguistic competence). Typically focuses on units of language at/ within sentence level. (Content analysis?)


Language as Social Object: (sociolinguistics). Study variation in dialects, language in social perspective, like how speakers know to make choices and follow practices of using languages appropriately (communicative competence). Linguistic conventions not as mere surface correctness but "complex connections between the use of a linguistic feature and its function and interpretation in a text or context" (60). Language in context. "structure of language and its functions in social and cultural contexts" (60).


Theories and Methods of Discourse Analysis: ethnography of communication,(language socialization), interactive sociolinguistics (smaller social groups, convos, arguments), genre analysis, systemic linguistics (social semiotics to describe structure of clauses, sentences, and texts / focus on textual structure), critical discourse analysis (draws on social theories to analyze interactions of language and ideology).


Data Sources: Ethnography--cultural performances of oral traditions, such as narratives; by storytellers interactive sociolinguistics-- narratives, usually those from ordinary convo; genre analysis--often uses academic discourse as data; systemic linguistics--many sources, recently emphasizing language and genres in educational settings; critical discourse analysis also many source, but focus on language in public and political domains.


The Analysis of Oral-Written Language in Discourse Analysis


Chafe''s study (62)-- "qualitative and inductive, with basic quantitative verification"


Biber "systematic quantitative methodology" called "Multidimensional Analysis." "Different registers and genres of oral and written language are characterized not by single features but by sets of co-occurring features" (63).


The Analysis of Oral-Written Language in Composition Studies


argues that Chafe''s (qual) and Biber''s (quant) work "converge in support of a view of oral and written language on a structural-functional continuum, with different structuers conventionally associated with different functions in context" (64).


Many composition studies "draw implicitly or explicitly upon work in discourse analysis to develop structural-functional analyses of written language in context" (65). Most qual, but growing number of combined qualitative-quantitative methodologies.


Rich Feature Analysis (65)


Method-- procedures


  1. selecting initial corpus
  2. identifying salient patterns
  3. determinining "interestingness"
  4. selecting study corpus
  5. verifying the pattern
  6. developing a functional-rhetorical analysis


defines pattern as "the conventional relationship between a structural feature and its function, meaning, or significance in context" (66). Relationship centered upon a convention, "an interpretive association between the typical use of a figure and its meaning" (66). 


Rich feature analysis = looking for "particular features in a text or a set of texts that are associated with conventions of meaning and significance in context" (66). Have both linguistic integrity (structural; can be categorized, coded, etc.) and contextual value ("can be conventionally connected to matters of function, meaning, interpretation, and significance" [66]).


Bottom-up discourse analysis seeking rich features "involves looking at texts, inductively identifying their rich features and associated conventions, then using these features and conventions as examples in a discriptive argument in support of some generalization(s) or claim(s) about the interpretive relations between features, conventions, texts, and their contexts" (67)


Top-down discourse analysis: "interpreting rich features and their conventions of significance associates these descriptions with larger social, political, and cultural frameworks, such as gender theory, organizational communication..." (67).


Examples of Rich Feature Analysis


discusses use in academic discourse, which can be characterized as a continuum (genres, experience, etc). Cites own studies concerning students'' use of awkward sentences and general form.


Awkward sentence analysis: rich feature= Awk annotation. Created corpus; moved from data collection to analysis; categorized and coded; able to determine commonalities. Barton notes "this discourse analysis was based on a relatively straightforward relationship between structure and function" (70). Basically qualitative with quantitative verification.


Why students write in general form required rich feature analysis with "much more complicated relationship between structures and functions" (71). Found contrasting ways of using evidentials (words that express a writer''s attitude toward knowledge [72]). Degree-of-reliability evidentials (words such as probably, certainly, generally--evaluate reliability of knowledge). Eveidentials specifying the mode of knowledge (belief, induction) use range of expressions including "I think," "I believe," "seem." Contrast evidentials mark contrasts between knowledge and expectation (in fact, nevertheless). Evidentials became rich feature because their use "systematically established a difference in the ways the epistemological stance is conventionally expressed by experienced vs. inexperienced writers in academic writing" (74).


rich feature analysis: "identifies a rich feature or a set of related rich features; defines the feature(s) linguistically by focusing on structure, function, or both; describes the conventional meaning or significance of the feature(s); establishes and verifies the patterns of the feature(s) within a set of texts; and explains how the resulting discourse analysis is interesting for the field of composition theory and pedagogy" (75).