Meaning of discourse

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Meaning of discourse

Postby Woravut » 02 Aug 2016 14:00

Yesterday, when I entered my first lesson in DA, I was asked what discourse was. ....I could not come up with a definition.

Now, to give my answer, discourse is a house. There are many houses in the world, so discourses. A house has a structure that forms the shape of the house. A discourse has its structure to form the discourse. In a house, there are items and are arranged to make the house nice and tidy. In a discourse, there are items that make the discourse understood. A house is for humans and children to live in. A discourse is for humans and children to live on.

A house is not a house when not seen. A discourse is not a discourse when not seen or heard.
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Re: Meaning of discourse

Postby stevelouw » 10 Aug 2016 08:00

A useful metaphor for a potentially thorny conceptual question. Did you offer this to the class, and did they like it?

I always worry that using metaphors in class will distract students from the issue, but quite often it actually leads to fruitful exploration. The students who are confused find it a way to visualize the concept, and the strong students play with it, either by adding to it, or identifying alternative (stronger) metaphors.

For example, we can add to your metaphor: a house means different things to its different inhabitants. To the cleaner, it's a place of work. To the dog, it may represent the entire known world. Similarly, discourse may take on different meanings for different participants in it - one reader/listener may find it a source of inspiration, while another, a personal attack. A house changes and grows with each additional occupant - and discourse (especially conversation) changes and grows as interlocutors contribute to it.

I think if I'd had to think up a metaphor for discourse on the spot, I would have gone for something which captures the sense that it conveys meaning. A car, perhaps, transporting meaning (passengers). Like a car, discourse has form and function, and varies according to the task set for it. But I think this one needs more thought to make it work neatly.
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Re: Meaning of discourse

Postby Richard » 10 Aug 2016 09:19

A key issue with discourse is that there is no single definition. How you define discourse depends on the approach or perspective you are taking. This can cause problems, such as when you read an article about DA, you may misunderstand it if you are applying a different definition of discourse to the one used in the article. The lack of any single definition can also make us feel uncomfortable. As humans, we value unambiguity, yet a field like DA is necessarily ambiguous. If we can't have a single neat definition, perhaps we need to use analogies to help us understand something, like discourse is a house or a car (as suggested by Woravut and Steve). These can help us understand and may even lead to new insights as we draw parallels between the two concepts, but can also promote misconceptions.

As an example of a helpful analogy, I only really understood the idea of principles v. parameters in linguistic theory when I read an explanation that said: All countries dicatate that people should drive on one side of the road only (the principle), which side of the road, left or right, depends on the individual country (the parameter).

As someone who has to teach horribly complex theoretical content, to what extent do you think I should use analogies or metaphors in my teaching? Should I be choosing the 'best' analogy or should I be encouraging students to come up with their own analogies?
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Re: Meaning of discourse

Postby Woravut » 25 Aug 2016 08:22

I think encouraging students to come up with their own analogies could be more friutful. It is one way of promoting referential thinking, and several thinings skills such as comparing and contrasting thinking skills.
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