English Language & Literature Project Topics & Materials



Discourse and communication are two interrelated concepts, intricately interwoven and grossly assumed as overtly synonymous. This study therefore, attempts to demystify these concepts and also aim to unearth the intricate relationship that exists between them .In this regard, the study discussed in detail the theoretical frameworks of discourse and communication and consequently established the fact that they are absolutely synonymous in every respect. To this end, the methodology is Content Analysis using discourse analytic tools of cohesion and coherence.


Language, it could be said, is as old as man but the central function of language is and remains communication. In other words, the whole essence of language boils down to communication and communication is or entails discourse. The centrality and significance of language in relation to mankind has made it the concern of linguists. Prior to modern trends in linguistics analysis, scholars were chiefly concerned with describing the structures and frameworks of languages, in this case, the traditional grammarians. However, the development of new approaches in language study shifted emphasis to functionalism, marking a quantum leap from linguistic prescriptivism to linguistic descriptivism. This brought about attempts to explain the roles or functions of language in different context, thus leading to new disciplines like discourse analysis and communication studies that view language as discourse and as a means to exchange ideas or knowledge.

Discourse can be regarded as communication because they are invariably linked such that the manifestation of one presupposes the occurrence of the other. This scenario could be likened to two sides of a coin; intricate parts of a whole. According to Wodak ‘discourse is a social performance, a relative social phenomenon that depends on a wide range of discipline…’ (49). Simply put, it refers to conversations or utterances in a social context. On the other hand, communication is an umbrella term for processes that involve the exchange of information and this includes conversations or utterances (discourse). Keyton (52) states that ‘communication presupposes discourse and all discourse forms’. In this regard, the concepts of discourse and communication will be examined in detail to further understand there interrelatedness and minor differences.


The term Discourse is broad with many definitions. It ‘integrates a whole palette of meanings’ (Horvath, npn). The Wikipedia states that the word discourse is derived from the Latin word discursus which means to and from’ (npn). Literally, discourse refers to communication of thought by words or a formal discussion of a subject in speech or writing. A plausible definition of discourse is offered by Stubbs as ‘language above the sentence or above the clause’ (2). In the same vein, Tenorio (4) states that discourse ‘is the highest unit of linguistic description; phonemes, morphemes, words, phrases, clauses, sentences and text are below’. This definition offers a syntactic description or explanation of discourse. Adopting a different view, Van Dijk asserts that discourse is ‘text in context’ (3). Dijk’s position offers a sociolinguistics outlook on the notion of discourse by taking cognizance of the situation it occurs. The context is very significant because discourse does not take place in a vacuum and must be by definite participants or interactants.

Despite the various definitions offered by linguists, Schiffrin conceives that ‘discourse can be interpreted in wider range than any other term in linguistic areas, yet it has been least accurately defined’ (40). This is relatively in consonance with Richardson’s view which implies that discourse is a term that is used fashionably in various disciplines and becomes ‘one of the most well used words in academics today’ (21). In other words, the term is frequently used and adopted in other academic fields, thus leading to its diverse definitions. Paltridge (2) offers that Zellig Harris; a well known linguist was the first to use the term ‘discourse’ in 1952 during a paper he presented on Discourse Analysis. However, Discourse as a field only gained much interest during the 1970s when it eventually developed as a critique of cognitive process in communication. It is based on the notion that language needs a context for it to function properly. In this regard, Ahmad (1) stressed that it is ‘difficult to understand the linguistic items used in discourse without a context’.

The context is so relevant in discourse such that it is part of the three perspectives outlined by Van Dijk to define or critically understand discourse. They are: linguistic, cognitive and socio-cultural. First, he argues that discourse is described at the syntactic, semantic and stylistic levels (linguistics perspective). Secondly, he adds that it needs to be understood from the interlocutors’ processes of production, reception and understanding (cognitive) and finally he points to the social dimension of discourse which he sees as a sequence of contextualized, controlled and purposeful acts that occur in the society: context (socio-cultural). In sum, discourse is multidisciplinary. It is a social performance, an interpersonal activity whose form is determined by its social purpose.

Discourse Analysis is a cover term for the many traditions by which discourse may be analysed. Osisanwo (8) notes thus, ‘popular as discourse analysis is among modern linguists, coming up with a comprehensive and acceptable definition of the term has been a herculean task’. To solve this linguistics conundrum, Brown and Yule in Osisanwo provided an apt definition as ‘the analysis of discourse is necessarily the analysis of language in use’ (8). This definition implied that discourse overtly presupposes communication; therefore discourse analysis is the method of studying discourse. Stubbs in Osisanwo offered a syntax-oriented view of discourse analysis as an attempt to study ‘the organization of language above the sentence or above the clause, and therefore to study larger linguistic units, such as conversational exchanges or written texts’ (8).

Schriffin explains that ‘it is a critique of cognitivism (objective, observable/knowable reality) that developed from the 1970s onwards, although it has its roots in the turn to language in the 1950s’ (34). Crystal in Mills asserted that ‘discourse analysis focuses on the structure of naturally occurring spoken language, as found in such discourses as conversations, interviews, commentaries and speeches’ (3). This corroborates Van Dijk’s view on Discourse analysis as a modality for construction of theories in clarifying the existing relations between language use, thoughts or beliefs and social interactions. He goes further to correct the general misconception that discourse analysis can only be done on spoken language since there is an evident interaction between speakers. On the contrary, written materials can also be analysed because readers assimilate what they are reading in spite of what may seem as passive interaction between a reader and the text.

In a nutshell, Mills (135) agreed that ‘discourse analysis could be seen as a reaction to a more traditional form of linguistics (formal, structural linguistics) which focused on the constituent units and structure of the sentence and which does not concern itself with an analysis of language in use’. It is concerned with translating the notion of structure from the level of the sentence to the level of longer text.


A strategy ordinarily refers to a modality, procedure or method in achieving a set goal or aim. Van Dijk conceived strategy as ‘cognitive representations of action sequences and their goals’ (79). This means that one’s desires or wants are compared to what one knows about one’s abilities, the action, context, the possibilities and probabilities of outcomes and so on. In this regard, he viewed discourse strategies as ‘intuitive notions that underlie semantic relations between sentences and in terms of rules relating sentences with semantic macrostructures’ (80). These intuitive notions bring about proper linking of ideas or semantic relations in discourse. Therefore, the basic discourse strategies are cohesion and coherence.

2.1.1 Cohesion: This refers to the grammatical or lexical linking within a text or sentence that holds a text together and gives it meaning. There are two main types of cohesion: lexical and grammatical cohesion.

Lexical cohesion involves making use of the features of words as well as the group relationship between them. There are two main types of lexical cohesion which are: reiteration and collocation. Reiteration occurs in form of repetition, synonymy or hyponymy. On the other hand, collocation deals with words that co-occur in discourse.

Grammatical cohesion centres on the logical and structural form of words used in discourse. There are four main types of grammatical devices: reference, substitution, ellipsis and conjunction. Reference deals with definiteness and can be divided into two: anaphoric and cataphoric reference. Substitution entails replacement of linguistic element(s) while ellipsis involves outright deletion of these elements (words).

2.1.2 Coherence: This covers the semantic aspects of discourse. Simply put, discourse is said to be coherent when it makes sense. Coherence in discourse is achieved through syntactical features, cognitive processes and semantic relations such as the use of deictic, anaphoric and cataphoric elements, implications and presuppositions.

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