Discourse Analysis Oxford: Oxford University Press

Henry Great Widdowson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Pp. xvi + 136.

Reviewed by Karim Sadeghi
Urmia University, Iran

Discourse Analysis, a volume in the Oxford Introductions to Language Study series, has been written to act as a transitional text for novice readers who need an introduction to the notion of discourse before embarking on a more technical enquiry into the field.

The book has been organized into four sections: Survey, offering a non-technical coverage of basic issues in eight short chapters, Readings, where 22 extracts form specialist literature are offered for discussion, References, an annotated list of selected work on discourse analysis (DA), and a Glossary.

Chapter 1, entitled Language in Use, specifies the conditions under which a spoken or written text becomes interpretable to a receiver, the meaning of which is ultimately hidden from the recipient unless he/she is aware of the linguistic features of the text and the actual situational and abstract cultural contexts. By making recourse to a consideration of Dell Hymes s (1972) model of communicative competence, chapter 2, Communication, explains how users of a language make sense of what they receive. Context, as the title of chapter 3 suggests, has been defined as an abstract mental construct which includes not only the actual circumstances of time and place (p. 19) but also a knowledge of the state of affairs, the values which need to be activated for successful communication to take place. The construct of familiar knowledge (p. 28), schemata, is the focus of the next chapter Schematic Conventions. This chapter discusses how the co-text serves as a frame of reference (p. 29), inside which the existing discourse is interpreted. Co-textual Relations, as the title of chapter 5 aims to explicate, is the role of information structure (i.e., the sequence of theme/rheme or new/given information) and text linkage (i.e., the explicit cohesive devices such as anaphoric and cataphoric pro-forms) in the interpretation of a text.

Chapter 6 is in a way a summary of the book in that the author tries to link the arguments already made to The Negotiation of Meaning, the title of the chapter. For this to happen, the author notes that not only should the recipients possess systemic knowledge (i.e., the knowledge of what is encoded in the language system (p. 53) and schematic knowledge, but there should be some degree of convergence between knowledge types possessed by communication parties. The author introduces critical discourse analysis (CDA) in chapter 7 and explains that CDA is not just an academic exercise but a campaign against those who use power to control opinion to their own advantage (p. 71). In the last chapter, Text Analysis, the author offers a tool for practitioners in DA and CDA to use for finding out whether what has been proposed falls inside the commonly accepted norms.

Neglecting a few minor editorial inconsistencies in parts of the book, it nicely fulfills the purpose for which it has been intended as both an insightful coverage of the key concepts in DA and an illustration of many abstract notions using carefully worked-out examples.

Hymes, D. H. (1972). On communicative competence. In J. B. Pride and J. Holmes (Eds.), Sociolinguistics (pp. 269-293). London: Penguin.