Discourse analysis

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Discourse analysis

What is discourse analysis?

Discourse analysis is a research method that helps understand the use of language in real-life situations. It is used for studying both written and spoken language in relation to its social context. It considers language to be the way people express themselves rather than just the technical pieces like words and sentences. 

It discovers how language is influenced by and shapes the social context in which it takes place. In this situation, language could mean text or speech and context means the form in which the text or speech occurs. 

Discourse analysis has an interdisciplinary approach that could be used for the study of various social domains in different types of research. It involves examining language beyond the sentence to gain an understanding of how it functions in a social context.

discourse analysis
Source: ResearchGate

What are the types of discourse analysis?

After understanding what is discourse analysis, here's how we divide discourse analysis into two approaches: language-in-use (or socially situated text and talk) and sociopolitical.

The language-in-use approach concentrates on the micro dimensions of language, grammatical structures, and the manner in which these features interplay within a social context. 

An example of the socio-political approach would be critical discourse analysis (CDA). Critical Discourse Analysis concentrates on social problems, particularly on the role of discourse in the production and reproduction of power abuse or domination. It sets up a relationship between language and power and is fundamentally dealing  with the analysis of how language reflects and reveals complex relationships of dominance, discrimination, power and control.  

What is discourse analysis used for?

Discourse analysis is used to examine and understand the manner in which language functions and how meaning is created in different social contexts. Discourse analysis can be used on any instance of written or oral language, in addition to non-verbal aspects of communication like tone and gestures.

Researchers use discourse analysis techniques to gain a better understanding of the world by investigating the underlying meaning of the things that people say and the manner in which they say it, whether in face-to-face conversation, documents, non-verbal interaction, or images. 

This makes it possible for researchers to get a better understanding of social groups and how they communicate.

Discourse analysis is rather useful for studying the underlying meaning of a spoken or written text as it considers the social and historical contexts.

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What are the advantages of discourse analysis?

The most significant advantages of discourse analysis are:

  • It assists researchers in uncovering the motivation behind a text by making it possible for them to view a problem from a higher stance. 
  • It is helpful for studying the underlying meaning of a spoken or written text as it considers the social and historical contexts.
  • It aids in understanding the function of language and how discourse can be used to spur and nurture positive social change.

What are the disadvantages of discourse analysis?

The main disadvantages of discourse analysis are:

  • Since there are various approaches to discourse analysis, it might be hard to choose the most appropriate approach for a specific setting.
  • Discourse analysis can be a time-consuming task.
  • Some say that it is no more than a deconstructive reading of a text to understand its underlying meaning—it does not provide answers to questions based on scientific research.

How is discourse analysis applied in NLP?

Discourse Analysis in Natural Language Processing (NLP) is applied to improve the understanding of language in a broader concept. It can be used in these ways-

1. Coreference Resolution

Discourse Analysis helps in coreference resolution, which is a task of finding different expressions that refer to the same entity. It is essential to understand the context of discourse in order to accurately identify and resolve coreference.

2. Cohesion and Coherence 

Discourse Analysis plays an important role in understanding and modeling coherence and cohesion in text. It mainly studies the relations between the overall flow of information and sentences, this is important for tasks like machine translation, text summarization and document classification.

3. Pragmatic Understanding

Discourse Analysis also helps in improving pragmatic understanding in NLP. Pragmatic focuses on understanding how language is used in certain contexts to convey meanings beyond the exact interpretation.The knowledge derived by using discourse analysis to pragmatic understanding in NLP models, helps capture the intended meaning in communication.

How to use discourse analysis in qualitative research?

Discourse analysis is also used as a qualitative research method, mainly in humanities and social sciences. Here are some ways discourse analysis is applied in qualitative research,

1. Rich Descriptive Analysis

Discourse analysis offers a rich and detailed analysis of language use that helps to gain an in-depth knowledge of how meaning is created, negotiated and transformed within certain social contexts.

2. Contextual Understanding

Discourse analysis highlights the significance of understanding language in its social and cultural context. It takes broader factors that influence the use and meaning of language into consideration. For example historical, political and social factors.  

3. Qualitative Data Analysis

Discourse analysis is a qualitative data analysis method that mainly focuses on interpreting any form of data (complex, textual, detailed, spoken, rich). It comprises coding, categorising data and finding patterns and themes present in the data.

How to conduct discourse analysis?

Conducting discourse analysis is a qualitative and interpretive way of analyzing texts. Interpretations are made based on the details of the material itself as well as on contextual knowledge

There are several approaches and techniques that could be used to conduct discourse analysis. Here are the basic steps involved in them:

1. Define the research question and select the content of analysis

You have to start with a clearly defined research question. After defining your research question, you need to choose a range of material that is most appropriate to answer it.

You can apply discourse analysis to large as well as smaller samples of data. The size of the sample depends on the aims and the timescale of your research.

2. Gather information and theory on the context

You now need to establish the social and historical context in which the material was produced and intended to be received. Collect the factual details of when and where the content was produced, who the author is, who published it, and whom the content was disseminated to.

In addition to understanding the real-life context of the discourse, you could even conduct a literature review on the topic and construct a theoretical framework that would help guide your analysis.

3. Analyze the content for themes and patterns

Now you have to closely and carefully examine various elements of the material like words, sentences, paragraphs, and overall structure and relate them to attributes, themes, and patterns that are relevant to your research question.

4. Review your results and draw conclusions

After you finish assigning particular attributes to elements of the material, you should reflect on your results to examine the function and meaning of the language used. Considering your analysis in relation to the broader context that you established earlier will allow you to ​​draw conclusions that will answer your research question.

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