English Language - Discourse

HideShow resource information

Structures in Written Texts

Discourse structure is the method that explains how texts are put together.

Lists/ instructions - 

  • Logical progression through stages, use of imperative verbs to instruct and guide. Eg, recipies, instructions, guides
  • Problem-solution - identifies a problem. Eg, product advertisements
  • Analysis - Breaks down key ideas into consistuent parts, evaluates an explores. Eg, academic articles, newspaper editorials
  • Narrative - details a series of events, can be chronological or non chronological. Eg, novels, witness acocunts

Discourse structure is dependent on genre - how texts present information in order to create identities for particular individuals or institutions and the ideologies that are often inherent in these.

1 of 6

Structures in Spoken Discourse

One-speaker discourse: oral narratives

Labov's narrative catergories:

When a speaker talks for an extended period, we can say that he or she is narrating.  The sociolinguist Labov put forward a six part structure for oral narrative. The narrative catergories (six key categories developed by Labov which appear in a narrative):

  • Abstract (A) - the indication that a narrative is about to start and the speaker wants listener's attention
  • Orientation (O) - the 'who' 'where' 'what' and 'why.' It sets the scene and provides further contexual info for the listener.
  • Complicating action (CA) - the main body in narrative detail
  • Resolution (R) - the final events to give the narrative closure
  • Evaluation (EV) - additions to the basic story, to highlight attitudes or to command the listener's attention at important moments
  • Coda (C) - a sign the narrative is complete. This may include a return to the initial time frame before the narrative.
  • Narrative may not contain them all, and an EV may occur at any time.
2 of 6


(additions to the basic story, to highlight attitudes or to command the listener's attention at important moments)

Possible to divide into two types:

  • External evaluation: an evaluative comment outside the narrative sequence

eg:  'this is an incredible story' 'now I'm getting to the good part'

  • Internal evaluation: an evaluative comment occuring at the same time as events in the narrative sequence. These can be divided into:
      • Intensifying evaluation: contributing to vividness via gestures, repetitions or dramatic sounds ('Fred ran into a wall, ouch!')
      • Explicative evaluation - providing reasons for narrative events ('Fred annoyed his mum, because he was very noisy')
3 of 6

The analysis of conversation

Conversational analysis (CA) provides a method for lookin at multi-speaker discourse. This is largely based on the concept of the conversational turn and the basic consequence of that turn, the adjacency pair (two utterances by different speakers that have a natural/logical link), which forms an exchange structure (series of turns between speakers).

Conversations are rather straightfoward, and often speakers will insert information at various points to create a larger exchange structure. This can be in the form of a triadic structure known as initation-response-feedback (IRF) (a triadic structure in speech that allows the first speaker to feed back on the response of a second speaker).  Or, an insertion sequence can be used (an additional sequence in the body of an exchange structure)

Turn taking is also a major factor - knowing when to take turns is crucial and natural in coversation. There are often points when a speaker will know they are expected to speak. Other transition relevance points (a point at which it is natural for another speaker to take turn) can occur as a consequence of natural pauses or a complete break on speech. The decision as to what gets spoken about is topic management (the control of the convo in terms of speaking/topic) and is often a result of powerful participants (hold some degree of status in a convo).

4 of 6

Features of discourse

  • Back-channelling - A feature of speaker support: non-verbal utterances to show attention or agreement (eg, mmm, yeah, ok)
  • Discourse marker - signal a shift in convo and topic areas. Can announce a counter argument (ok, right then, so, but)
  • Fillers - non-verbal sounds that can act as pauses in speech, naturall or for thinking time. May signal speaker uncertainty (err, um)
  • Hedging - Avoid directness or minimise a potential face-threatening act. Undertaken using a range of epistemic modal forms (kind of, sort of, and modals like could, might)
  • False starts + repairs - False starts are when a speaker begins to speak, pauses and recommences. A repair returns to correct a previously stated phrase or sentence (he..sorry she broke the vase)
  • Skip connectors - a return to a previous topic of conversations, essentially a type of discourse marker (anyway, coming back to our original discussion)
  • Fixed expressions - a conventional and routine expression in colloquial communiaction, sometimes metaphorical (as a matter of fact, bascially, at the end of the day)
  • Vauge expressions - similar to hedging, deliberatey non-committal expressions in informal contexts (anything, something, thing)
5 of 6

Features of discourse

  • Ellipsis - omission of words for economical purposes, as appropriate to informal contexts or to avoid awkward repetition (just seen jack, tonight, 8pm)
  • Tag questions - consist of an auxiliary, negating particle and pronoun and can be a sign of speaker support, uncertainty or a request for clarification 'you did well, didn't you?)
  • Deixis - Pointing words in a perceptual, temporal or spatial dimension (I, you, today, there, now, me, they, here, there, this, that)
  • Non-fluency features - non verbal occurences (pauses, hesitations and repetitions that occur in spontaneous speech)
6 of 6


No comments have yet been made

Similar English Language resources:

See all English Language resources »See all Child language acquisition resources »