Discourse analysis is a sub-discipline within linguistics that is used to analyze discourse at a level larger than the sentence. Before discourse analysis evolved, linguists were concerned primarily with morphemes, words, phrases, and at most, sentences. But linguists in the latter half of the twentieth century began developing tools and theories for analyzing paragraphs, sections, and entire discourses. These discourses may be oral or written, and discourse analysis is intended to handle both mediums of communication.
Discourse analysis has been applied to the biblical texts up to this point in a rather limited way. The majority of scholars utilizing discourse analysis have used a brand that relies heavily on semantics to the exclusion of other considerations, such as pragmatics. In the sources given below, the works that teach how to trace the logical relationships between propositions are of such a kind. They seek to find the more prominent proposition or sets or propositions within a discourse and show how the rest of the discourse is logically related. This is a useful method, especially for exegesis and preaching, but it is limited in its exclusion of pragmatics (contextual speaker meaning) as well as in its limited approach to meaning. For example, this method (perhaps termed “semantic structural analysis” or “hierarchical propositional analysis”) has no way to account for the illocutionary force of language. For this reason, a wider scope of works in the realm of linguistics are suggested for students interested in learning how to analyze discourse so that one does not remain limited to analyzing semantics, and at that only type of semantics.
Some works on critical discourse analysis are given, but this discipline is motivated by a Marxist hermeneutic of suspicion that all language is subversive and political power-play. Analyzing such discourse often involves discovering what the linguist believes to be the subversive illocutionary act behind the speech and exposing it. This branch of discourse analysis, in my opinion, is most helpful with its emphasis on the illocutionary act of the author, while the Marxist assumptions about language may be too pessimistic.
Lastly, this is nowhere near an exhaustive bibliography. If you have extra works to be included, please feel free to leave a comment with the author and title and, if you wish, an annotation for it. We would be happy to include it here. The list will be updated periodically. Last update: April 5, 2015.
General Discourse Analysis
- According to Kirk Lowery, this is the best place to start for discourse analysis (he prefers the term “text linguistics”).
- The “assumption underlying this work is that meaning is also structured, and that this structure is amenable to linguistic analysis and theory. Indeed, the purpose of this presentation is to set forth a theory of the structure of meaning—to give it a technical title, semantic structure” (14). The semantic structure that the authors lay out is hierarchical. The smallest unit of meaning is a concept, which is a linguistic feature that signifies one single idea. Multiple concepts make up propositions, which make up propositional clusters, which make up paragraphs, and so forth. The authors argue that language has natural prominence built in. There is always a prominent idea within a piece of communication. This prominence may be natural (e.g., a purpose is more prominent than the means by which the purpose is achieved), or it may be marked by special linguistic features. An analysis of the semantic structure of a discourse entails finding the discourse constituents (concepts, paragraphs, etc.), finding the semantic relation between each of them, and discovering the most prominent semantic element through this analysis. The authors discuss other features of discourse analysis throughout, such as coherence and unity, but one should consult other works (such as Brown and Yule). However, the authors throughout the work simply assert their theory rather than discussing other work in the field. This is probably because the work is meant to be a manual for Bible translators, which they desire to be simple and easily teachable. Thus, the discourse analysis student will want to be sure to supplement this work with others, especially works that deal with pragmatics and marked discourse features.
- Brown and Yule survey the work done thus far on discourse analysis and the various components of what have been included in such work. They deal both with written and with oral texts, sometimes more with oral in order to see language-in-use more effectively. They appreciate the work done by Chomsky and other structural linguists to analyze grammar on the sentence level, but recognize the need for analysis of discourse as a whole. This work surveys components of discourse analysis such as linguistic forms and functions, context and co-text, topic, staging, information structure, reference, and coherence. The work therefore looks at elements of the author’s composition, the author’s situational context, and the reader’s conception of the discourse. It is therefore helpful for understanding the three possible locations of meaning: author, text, and audience. Even if one prefers to see meaning only in the author, one must still reckon with what occurs within the text itself and within the mind of the audience if one wants to perform discourse analysis. The negative aspect of this work is that no method is laid out. They emphasize the developmental nature of discourse analysis (as of 1983), and perhaps this is why they have no developed method. Yet, this volume works as an excellent supplement to Beekman, Callow, and Kopesec’s work. One can use the semantic analysis method found in their work, while supplementing the semantic analysis with the tools provided by Brown and Yule.
- This work is brief and introductory, with most chapters spanning only 4-10 pages. It covers various concepts utilized in discourse analysis and uses language that is, for the most part, accessible for most readers. Chapters 1-4 cover respectively the four different dimensions of a text: (1) number of speakers (monologue or dialogue); (2) text genre; (3) style and register; (4) medium of production (oral versus written). Chapters 5-15 cover common characteristic in discourses, such as coherence, cohesion, mental representations, activation status, discourse-pragmatics, foreground and background, logical proposition analysis, and analyzing conversations. Chapter 7 offers the reader a method of “text charting,” although it is different from any conventional diagramming method (to this reader, at least) and, given only a 4.5 page explanation, the reader is left wondering how to execute this method on texts and what benefit it could reap. Chapters 16-18 covers the linguistic phenomenon of reference in discourse, paying special attention to the amount of “coding” that is embedded in referring expressions and how such expressions are given pragmatic emphasis (or not). Chapter 17 discusses two types of references in discourse, sequential and VIP (very important participant) strategies, and chapter 18 provides a methodology for discovering reference strategies in a discourse. Positively, this work introduces readers to possibly foreign concepts with lucid language and in an accessible form. The reader is introduced to common terminology within the field of discourse analysis. Negatively, this work could be improved by a greater amount of examples. When linguistic concepts are discussed, they are sometimes incomprehensible for those not familiar with the field and the typical examples of linguistic phenomena. Perhaps the greatest downfall to this book, along with many others, is that no methodology is provided for the reader to perform discourse analysis. The reader is given a methodology for charting texts and discovering reference strategies, but nothing like a guide to a full-scale analysis of a discourse that utilizes the concepts discussed in the book, such as coherence and cohesion.
- This is an up-to-date collection of essays on various aspects of discourse analysis, from collecting data from oral transcriptions to analyzing it from various perspectives to the relation between discourse and various social situations.
Critical Discourse Analysis
- The four volumes are: (1) Disciplines of Discourse; (2) Dimensions of Discourse; (3) Discourse and Dialogue; (4) Discourse Analysis in Society. It seems from other works that cite Dijk that his work is more “critical discourse analysis” than “discourse analysis.”
- “The purpose of this book is to introduce discourse analysis to undergraduates in language-based and linguistics degrees…” (ix). The book is divided into three sections. According to the author, the first gives “balanced insight into basic theoretical concepts within discourse analysis. The second part presents a set of tools for analyzing texts, especially cohesive devices. The third part offers a wide variety of authentic texts from different fields so that students can put into practice the theoretical notions and the instruments of analysis provided in the previous two sections” (ix-x). In reality, however, this is no real book. The first section is only a compilation of power-point slide images, two per page, with terse descriptions of concepts. Most concepts are defined so minimally that the student with little or no background in discourse analysis will learn next to nothing. The second part of the book does not present tools for analyzing texts, as the author claims, but presents various simple texts and asks multiple questions about them, such as their cohesion or grammatical correctness. On p. 52 there is a table in which the reader is to “fill in the blanks” with 9 cohesive devices listed, under lexical cohesion and grammatical cohesion, but the author has not explained them so the exercise is impossible. Part three is much of the same. This book looks informative from the online information, but it should not be purchased.
- (Annotation is from the third edition). This work provides a methodology for doing discourse analysis in terms of critically analyzing the use of language as saying, doing, and being (3). The author utilizes speech act theory as well as later Wittgenstein’s “language game” theory, arguing that language games have winners who receive social goods. These social goods are always at stake, so language is always “political” (7). Gee believes that “all discourse analysis needs to be critical, not because discourse analysts are or need to be political, but because language itself is . . . political” (9). Discourse analysis should be practical and applied to social issues (10-12). While the title of his book does not reflect it, this work is on “critical discourse analysis,” which draws its tools freely from postmodern and neo-Marxian thinkers. Gee’s “method” is actually “not intended as a set of ‘rules’ to be followed ‘step-by-step’” (125). It involves six tools—situated meanings, social languages, figured worlds, intertextuality, Discourses, and Conversations—and seven “building tasks of language”—significance, practices (activities), identities, relationships, politics (the distribution of social goods), connections, and sign systems and knowledge (17-20). The analyst uses each tool to discover how language is being used as a building task. This provides forty-two possible questions to be asked of any text (121). The validity of this analysis is social, not individual, and consists of four components: convergence (of the answers to the questions to each other), agreement from native speakers, coverage (applicability of results to related data), and its correct use of linguistic details (122-24). Chapters 10-12 provide three examples of Gee’s version of discourse analysis, while an appendix provides instructions for discourse analysis on images and multimodal texts. This work covers more the connotative features of the text rather than the denotative features, relying heavily on speech-act theory and, thus, what language is doing (illocutionary acts). In this respect, the book is useful; one may use the forty-two questions provided by Gee to uncover the illocutionary force of a discourse. Yet, one must also be aware of the postmodern and neo-Marxian factors at work in his assumptions of the building tasks of language. There is a definite hermeneutic of suspicion that pervades these assumptions: everybody does everything to gain power over one another in order to acquire social goods.
- This work is a companion volume to Gee’s Introduction to Discourse Analysis. It has more practical tools for learning how to do discourse analysis, including exercises and sample texts. There is not much explanation on how to do discourse analysis, as in his Introduction.
Discourse Analysis in Biblical Studies
- Walter Bodine opens the work with an essay on a brief history of discourse analysis and why biblical scholars should be interested in it. In conclusion, Bodine says the “purpose of the volume is to encourage biblical scholars to join in welcoming into their circle this now established and rapidly growing field (11). In chapter 1, Robert Longacre examines Exodus 25:1-30:10 with the intention to “delineate clearly instruction as a discourse type and to present in some detail the structure and discourse-effectiveness of this passage” (23). He examines both the macrostructure of each section, as well as microstructures within each section, explains the discourse features of the Hebrew. In chapter 2, David M. Carr examines Isa 40:1-11 and its function in chapters 40-66 using a method of descending text analysis developed by Elizabeth Gühlich and Wolfgang Raible. In chapter 3, Randall Buth discusses functional grammar for Hebrew and Aramaic. “A functional grammar is one that includes pragmatic information in the core of the grammar” (78). He argues for a pragmatic function to the SVO/VSO order, as well as for fronting. In chapter 4, Kirk E. Lowery provides the theoretical foundations for Hebrew discourse grammar. He classifies four groups of discourse analysis: psycho-social, anthropological, cognitive, and grammatical. He argues that the grammatical approach is the best option to better understand Hebrew and its discourse. The best way to recognize discourse features of Biblical Hebrew is through (proper) statistical analysis (119). In chapter 5, Tova Meltzer provides a brief summary of the history of “style” in studies on literature and linguistics. In chapter 6, Cynthia L. Miller argues against the traditional understanding of l’mr as a gerundive use of the infinitive that marks direct speech (168). In chapter 7, Douglas M. Gropp discusses the discourse function of prepositions ke and be with infinitive construct. Ke + infinitive construct functions fairly consistently as a “backreferencing device,” whereas be + infinitive construct can achieve the same, or it can be used for resumption of a narrative, flashback, or establishing a new setting (202). This work is a useful set of essays to see how discourse analysis can benefit the exegete.
Guthrie, George H. “Discourse Analysis.” Pages 253-271 in Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues. Edited by David Alan Black and David S. Dockery. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001.
- Guthrie defines discourse analysis as “a process of investigation by which one examines the form and function of all the parts and levels of a written discourse, with the aim of better understanding both the parts and the whole of that discourse.” His article discusses the presuppositions and methodology of discourse analysis, following a largely a semantic structural analysis, although he does not provide enough information for a student to learn how to do discourse analysis. His article is more informative and persuasive to make the case for discourse analysis as a legitimate and necessary tool in the process of exegesis. He suggests that discourse analysis has four things to offer biblical studies (267-68). First, it can incorporate and integrate various disciplines (rhetorical, literary, and sociological criticism) that focus on discourse. Second, it provides a means for dealing with discourse above the sentence level. Third, it can help clarify exegetical issues that are not immediately resolvable from the sentence or near-context. Fourth, it provides a more objective means for ascertaining the structure of a biblical book.
Porter, Stanley, “Discourse Analysis and New Testament Studies.” Pages 24-35 in Discourse Analysis and Other Topics in Biblical Greek (eds. Stanley E. Porter and D. A. Carson; Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 113; Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 24-35.
- In 1995, Stanley Porter wrote an introductory essay to discourse analysis in NT studies. He noted that NT scholars have not yet utilized discourse analysis to a great extent, and that studies thus far have not shown whether the discipline would remain. He analyzes four different schools of thought, critiquing each one. There is the North American model of SIL, headed by Nida, Pike, and Lamb, whose work has been helpful for Bible translation, but who have failed to interact much with NT studies. There is the English and Austrailian model, headed by Firth, Halliday, and Hasan, who have a more integrated model, but it is unclear whether the results are worth the effort involved. There is the Continental European model, headed by the Scandinavian scholars (Beaugrande, Dressler, Kinneavy, Gülich and Raible, van Dijk, Jacobson, and Perelman), who divide the discussion into semantics, pragmatics, and syntax. These divisions are helpful, but it is less integrated than the English/Australian model. Lastly, there is the South African school, headed by Louw, whose colon analysis is helpful, but subjective in its choices (cf. Semantic Structure of Written Language). He suggests that the novelty of the discipline should not put off NT scholars from learning about and applying insights from discourse analysis, since all models are at one point or another in flux or development.
Poythress, Vern S. “A Framework for Discourse Analysis: The Components of a Discourse From a Tagmemic Viewpoint.” Semiotica 38-3/4 (1982): 277-298.
- Poythress, within a tagmemic framework, attempts “build a framework for classifying and cataloguing everything that goes on in the production and comprehension of discourses” (277). He attempts a catalog that is complete, expandable, and justifiable, contrary to other catalogs that are created on anad hoc basis (277-80). He views discourses primarily through three perspectives: static, dynamic, and relational, which relate respectively to meaning, impact, and significance (281-82). Impact can be sub-divided into emotive (concerning the speaker or author), formative (concerning the discourse or message), and conative (concerning the audience or target) (285-86; see the chart on p. 283). These three aspects of impact relate to authorial intention, illocutionary force, and perlocutionary force respectively (286). The three perspectives of meaning, impact, and significance are not completely autonomous, but inevitably overlap to some extent. The totality of these three categories is termed “import” (283).
- Poythress also breaks the meaning of a discourse into three categories, corresponding to the static, dynamic, and relational perspectives. Aspects of meaning include “units,” “hierarchies,” and “contexts” (288, including chart). Unital meaning has three elements: contrast, variation, and distribution, while context can be either mundane, locutionary, or symbolic (288-293; see Figure 4 on p. 292 graphically representing the aspects of the three types of context). A very helpful table (Table 1) is presented on p. 297, providing a summary of sub-divisions of total import and each sub-division’s relation to the static, dynamic, and relational perspectives.
. “Analyzing a Biblical Text: Some Important Linguistic Distinctions.” Scottish Journal of Theology 32/2 (1979) 113-31.
- Poythress lays out several ways of analyzing a text for its “meaning.” Between synchronic and diachronic analysis, he finds the former to be more fundamental since the latter presupposes it (119). Synchronic analysis can be made of oral or written material (119-20). When undertaking synchronic analysis, one must taken into account the speaker, the discourse, and the audience (120-129). The speaker’s meaning can differ from the discourse meaning because the speaker can fail to communicate properly (121). The audience can obviously misunderstand the speaker through the discourse. The discourse meaning “is that meaning that can be arrived at by competent judges with sufficiently extensive knowledge of the linguistic context, the discourse context, and the situational context shared by the speaker and his intended audience” (126). These three “meanings” can be analyzed synchronically in all levels of a text (e.g., the biblical documents), including sections, paragraphs, sentences, clauses, phrases, words, and morphemes (129). The rest of the article covers diachronic analysis in the form of tradition and source criticism, as well as a consideration of the effect of diachronic analysis for the issue of canon (130-37).
. “Hierarchy in Discourse Analysis: A Revision of Tagmemics.” Semiotica 40-1/2 (1982): 107-137.
- Poythress’ article lays out principles for a hierarchy of discourse, even down to the level of phoneme. His method revises what has been done by K. Pike. The results of his method are such that an analysis of one verse can take up an entire page as a diagram, or even two or three pages. It is therefore quite detailed, but not very practical for discourse analysis on a macro-level.
. “Propositional Relations.” Pages 159-212 in The New Testament Student and His Field. Vol 5 of The New Testament Student. Edited by John H. Skilton and Curtiss A. Ladley. Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1982.
- There are three types of propositional relations: relations of dynamicity (cause-effect), relations of determinateness or definiteness (one defines the other and they share a common topic), and relations of coherence (connected by denoting events or states connected in time or space) (162). He then subdivides these three categories into 24 more precise propositional relations, mostly following Callow, although using different names for the relations. The chart on pp. 196-97 summarizes all the relations. He provides some further sub-classification, but considers them less fruitful for yielding information about the passage (202-09).
- In this chapter, Schreiner lays out briefly the methodology for discovering propositions in a text and relating them together logically. He uses the bracketing method as well as the arcing method, which provides two different graphical representations of his analysis. He includes the following relations (111-12):
- Coordinate Relationships
- Series (S)
- Progression (P)
- Alternative (A)
- Subordinate Relationships
- Support by Restatement
- Action-Manner (Ac/Mn)
- Comparison (Cf)
- Negative-Positive (-/+)
- Idea-Explanation (Id/Exp)
- Question-Answer (Q/A)
- Support by Distinct Statement
- Ground (G)
- Inference (..)
- Action-Result (Ac/Res)
- Action-Purpose (Ac/Pur)
- Conditional (If/Th)
- Temporal (T)
- Locative (L)
- Bilateral (BL)
- Support by Contrary Statement
- Concessive (Csv)
- Situation-Response (Sit/R)
Discourse Analysis in the New Testament
- This series applies the method of Callow, Beekman, and Koposec (Semantic Structure of Written Communication) to the NT documents. The works include, first, a summary of the method for those who are unacquainted with it. Second, it provides an overview of the book with a constituent organization chart. This shows the discourse units (propositional clusters, paragraphs, divisions, sections, parts, etc.) of the book and how they sub-divide within one another. Third, the work provides an in-depth analysis of each unit within the discourse. This include a semantic equivalent translation of each verse, an analysis of the semantic relation between each unit, and a discussion of the most prominent idea or theme of a discourse unit. After reading these works, the reader will have an understanding of how each section of the discourse fits into the whole, as well as the main point of the entire discourse.
- This series contains works covering the rest of the NT writings as well, such as the following two.
- This work is the same as described for Banker’s Semantic and Structural Analysis of Philippians, except that it analyzes Colossians.
- This work is the same as described for Banker’s Semantic and Structural Analysis of Philippians, except that it analyzes 2 Thessalonians.
- Campbell summarizes in two chapters the use of discourse analysis by New Testament scholars over the past few decades. The first chapter gives a basic outline of different approaches to discourse analysis. He basically summarizes Stanley Porter’s 1995 article (which is included in this bibliography) that lays out four different linguistic schools of thought and their approach to discourse analysis, along with some evaluative comments. The basic point is that the Hallidayan approach seems to have had the most influence on biblical scholars, as seen in the latest works by Levinsohn and Runge, covered in the next chapter. For this reason, Campbell then provides an overview of Halliday’s approach to discourse analysis, which is essentially the study of cohesion in discourse. Various elements signal cohesion, such as conjunction, reference, ellipsis, and lexemes (more could be added). He then gives several components of cohesion analysis, such as cohesive ties.
- Campbell’s second chapter gives a lengthy summary of the two most recent works on discourse grammar (not analysis): Levinsohn’s Discourse Features of New Testament Greek and Steven Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament. His basic concerns are that both works fail to much much beyond the level of the sentence, and Levinsohn’s work is admittedly (by Levinsohn) limited to certain discourse features by certain authors, and is therefore not comprehensive. The biggest problem with Runge’s volume is that it is a discourse grammar, not a volume on discourse analysis. So again there is not much useful for evaluating chunks of discourse, but more for evaluating links between clauses or verses. Runge hopes to produce a larger volume on discourse analysis, so we must await that volume to see what his full system looks like. One of the main problems with both volumes is their eclecticism. They borrow freely from various linguistic schools. The problem is partially not their own fault, since no linguistic school has systematically applied their theories to the study of Koine Greek. But linguists do tend to play in packs, and attaching oneself to one school of thought might not be a bad idea for producing a theory of Greek discourse analysis.
- Levinsohn’s work presupposes the principles set out in his Analyzing Discourse book, chapters 1-7. He attempts to provide a descriptive, but also functional account of Greek discourse, attempting to classify discourse features and explain why and for what they are used. He draws from a multitude of linguistic insights from various sources for his methodology, which he describes as “eclectic” (vii). The book is not comprehensive, but only covers features of discourse in certain authors, which may differ from the way discourse features are used in other authors.
Sherwood, Aaron. “Paul’s Imprisonment as the Glory of the Ethnē: A Discourse Analysis of Ephesians 3:1-13.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 22, no. 1 (2012): 97-111.
- Aaron Sherwood provides a discourse analysis of Ephesians 3:1-13 in order to argue for the purpose of the digression in 3:2-13. He utilizes hierarchical propositional analysis, following the methodology of George Guthrie, Cotterell/Turner, and others (99-100). He argues that vv. 3-7 are parenthetical clarification of the main statement in v. 2b, that the stewardship of God’s grace was given to Paul by means of revelation (100-04). This is significant, since many assume a Deutero-Paulinist is digressing here to bolster his authority. If Sherwood is correct, then these thoughts are strictly subordinate to the main argument being made in this digression, and therefore do not serve a prominent purpose. He then argues that vv. 8-12 constitute an argument, specifically an enthymeme, to support the exhortation in v. 13. Because he mentions that he is a prisoner, he must interrupt himself to ensure they do not falsely construe this as shameful. Paul’s role as a prisoner does not lead directly to their freedom and honor, but rather Paul’s role as apostle (even a suffering apostle) leads to the constitution of the church with the Gentiles (thus, the mystery), through which God defeats the evil powers (108). “Therefore, the enthymeme of vv. 2-13 fills in: due to the ultimate result (v. 13) of Paul’s role in God’s eschatological plan, his apostleship and even imprisonment bring honor to the Gentile audience, and therefore Paul asks that they not be discouraged by an imprisonment that is interpreted to prove the efficacy of God’s plan” (108). His analysis provides a plausible reason for the digression and brings coherence to this difficult section.
Werner, John R. “Discourse Analysis of the Greek New Testament.” In New Testament Student and His Field, 213-233. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1982.
- Some phenomena signaling paragraphs: at least two occurrences together of a doxology (end of paragraph), a conjunction such as oun, a first-person singular verb used to state the author’s purpose (e.g., “I exhort”), and a vocative (214). Theme-roots may introduce and conclude a paragraph (e.g., Heb 11 and pisteuo) (214-15). Inclusios can occur with words that do not occur within the bounds of the inclusio (215). Coherence chains signal paragraphs, e.g., sentences connected by conjunctions, relative pronouns, and participles (215).
- The article includes a student’s paper analyzing the boundaries of 2 Thessalonians (216-33), and provides a template with which a student may perform a similar analysis.