The discourse reader

The discourse reader. 2nd edn. Ed. by Adam Jaworski and Nikolas Coupland. New York: Routledge, 2006. Pp. 576. ISBN 9780415346320. $51.95.

Reviewed by Carol Myers-Scotton, Michigan State University

This volume, which contains edited versions of previously published work, will demonstrate to both experienced researchers and students just how dynamic the field of discourse studies is, in terms of both theoretical goals and topics for analysis. The editors’ excellent general introduction (1–37) provides an insightful synthesis of how various approaches to discourse reinforce the notion that all discourse has multilayered meanings.

Overall, the chapters stress the role of discourse structures as tools used to negotiate personal relationships and legitimatize institutional authority. The six parts have overlapping themes: ‘Meaning, function and context’ (Part 1); ‘Methodologies and resources’ (Part 2); ‘Sequence and structure’ (Part 3); ‘Negotiating social relationships’ (Part 4); ‘Identity and subjectivity’ (Part 5); and ‘Power, ideology and control’ (Part 6).

Part 1 focuses on classic readings that emphasize discourse as an interactional phenomenon in which intentional meanings are conveyed by the structure of the discourse. Chapters include H. P. Grice, ‘Logic and conversation’ (66–77), on the cooperative principle; John J. Gumperz, ‘Sociocultural knowledge in conversational inference’ (78–85), on contextualization cues; and Emanuel A. Schegloff, ‘Talk and social structure’ (86–97), on what is pragmatically relevant to the participants.

Principally, two theoretical approaches or methodologies are represented throughout this volume: conversation analysis and critical discourse analysis. The conversation analysis approach is often used in chapters that analyze the structure of specific conversations. Several chapters consider how discourse structures or patterns can become tools to reinforce power relations or promote particular ideologies. For example, Pierre Bourdieu, ‘Language and symbolic power’, (480–90) explains how ‘the whole social structure is present in each interaction’ (481), Teun A. Van Dijk investigates ‘Discourse and the denial of racism’ (506–20), and Norman Fairclough discusses ‘Global capitalism and critical language awareness’ (146–57).

Although there are a few innovative chapters that consider sounds (Theo Van Leeuwen, ‘Sound in perspective’ [179–93]), signs (David Graddol, ‘The semiotic construction of a wine label’ [194–203]), and ‘Visual interaction’ (362–84) as discourse (Gunther Kress and Theo Van Leeuwen), some themes one might have expected are missing (e.g. something from Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson or other more cognitively-oriented approaches to discourse). Bilingual discourse is ignored entirely. Unfortunately, some of the chapters are so abridged that they are hard to follow (e.g. Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson’s ‘Politeness: Some universals in language usage’ [311–23]). However, the intellectual level of the introductions and of many of the chapters is high; possibly too high for the intended student audience. Still, Adam Jaworski and Nikolas Coupland deserve congratulations for a volume that is a great success in portraying what doing discourse means today.