Discourse (Latin: discursus, “running to and fro”) is the term that describes written and spoken communications; its denotations include:
- In semantics and discourse analysis: A generalization of the concept of conversation within all modalities and contexts.
- The totality of codified language (vocabulary) used in a given field of intellectual enquiry and of social practice, such as legal discourse, medical discourse, religious discourse, et cetera.
- In the work of Michel Foucault, and that of the social theoreticians he inspired: discourse describes “an entity of sequences, of signs, in that they are enouncements (énoncés)”.
An enouncement (l’énoncé, “the statement”) is not a unit of semiotic signs, but an abstract construct that allows the signs to assign and communicate specific, repeatable relations to, between, and among objects, subjects, and statements. Hence, a discourse is composed of semiotic sequences (relations among signs) between and among objects, subjects, and statements. The term discursive formation conceptually describes the regular communications (written and spoken) that produce such discourses. As a philosopher, Foucault applied the discursive formation in the analyses of large bodies of knowledge, such as political economy and natural history.
In the first sense-usage (semantics and discourse analysis), the word discourse is studied in corpus linguistics. In the second sense (the codified language of a field of enquiry), and in the third sense (a statement, un énoncé), the analyses of discourse are effected in the intellectual traditions that investigate and determine the relations among language and structure and agency, as in the fields of sociology, feminist studies, anthropology, ethnography, cultural studies, literary theory, and the philosophy of science. Moreover, because discourses are bodies of text meant to communicate specific data, information, and knowledge, there exist internal relations within a given discourse, and external relations among discourses, because a discourse does not exist in isolation (per se), but in relation to other discourses, which are determined and established by means of interdiscourse and interdiscursivity. Hence, within a field of intellectual enquiry, the practitioners occasionally debate “What is” and “What is not” discourse, according to the conceptual meanings (denotation and connotation) used in the given field of study.
Famous quotes containing the word discourse:
“Hath homely age th alluring beauty took
From my poor cheek? Then he hath wasted it.
Are my discourses dull? Barren my wit?
If voluble and sharp discourse be marred,
Unkindness blunts it more than marble hard.”
—William Shakespeare (15641616)
“If youre anxious for to shine in the high esthetic line as a man
of culture rare,
You must get up all the germs of the transcendental terms, and plant
You must lie upon the daisies and discourse in novel phrases of your
complicated state of mind,
The meaning doesnt matter if its only idle chatter of a
—Sir William Schwenck Gilbert (18361911)
“In my experience, persons, when they are made the subject of conversation, though with a Friend, are commonly the most prosaic and trivial of facts. The universe seems bankrupt as soon as we begin to discuss the character of individuals. Our discourse all runs to slander, and our limits grow narrower as we advance. How is it that we are impelled to treat our old Friends so ill when we obtain new ones?”
—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)